Macs go first as Europe defends Ryder Cup
28 Sep 2012 - 13:48:11
Europe was looking to golf's new superstar Rory McIlroy to launch the defence of the Ryder Cup against the United States on Friday as the event came to Chicago for the first time.
The world No.1, who at 23 is by far the youngest player among the 24 who will contest the 39th edition of golf's most spectacular event, has been sent out in the first of the opening four foursomes, in the company of close friend and fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell, who struck the first ball.
Up against them there was no Tiger Woods and no Phil Mickelson, but instead the veteran Jim Furyk and rookie Brandt Snedeker, who won the season-ending Tour Championship at Atlanta last weekend.
McDowell paid tribute to McIlroy's resounding form of late which brought him victory in three out of his last four tournamemnts, including an eight-stroke romp to win his second major at the US PGA Championship.
"We are going to use the world number one's power and precision and I will just knock a few tap-ins in," he said.
McIlroy said he had been surprised by the selection made by US captain Davis Love.
"To be honest they are not the opponents we were expecting," he said.
"We know that their team is so strong all the way through, but it was a little suprise to see a rookie in their first group."
The second of the alternate ball games sees Phil Mickelson win a record ninth US cap in the company of rookie Keegan Bradley, going up against the fearsome foursome team of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia.
Then its unchartered territory as Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson defy Europe's rockbed Lee Westwood, who has with him Franceso Molinari, perhaps the only surprise first session selection by Europe skipper Jose Maria Olazabal.
The anchor match sees the arrival of US talisman Tiger Woods, resuming his partnership with Steve Stricker, at 45 the oldest player involved in the action at Medinah Country Club.
Their matchup against Ryder Cup firebrand Ian Poulter and his fellow Englishman Justin Rose will likely draw huge galleries with more than 40,000, mainly American, fans expected to flood out of Chicago to the suburban course, which at 7,668 yards is the longest in Ryder Cup history.
No sooner than the opening foursomes are finished than Love and Olazabal will announce their pairings for the four afternoon fourballs, where each player plays his own ball and at the end of the hole they take the lowest score.
The foursomes/fourballs scenario is repeated on Saturday before the closing 12 singles on Sunday when every player is assured of being in action.
The US team, led by Woods and Mickelson, but with four rookies adding a note of uncertainty, will start as slight favourites.
With the exception of Furyk, all the US players are in the world top 20.
But Europe have recent history on their side, having won six out of the last eight contests dating back to 1995 and four out of the last five.
McIlroy is the undoubted European star, but three others - Donald, Westwood and Rose are in the top five.
Eight out of the 12-strong European team have winning records in the Ryder Cup, none of the Americans do so.
Love has taken a leaf out of the booklet of Paul Azinger, who captained the last US victory at Valhalla, Kentucky four years ago, in choosing a birdie-friendly course that can fire up the Chicago crowds, while trying to instill a free-wheeling sense of fun and derring-do in his players.