Sutton looks to Woods to lead from the front

Hal Sutton revealed one of golf's worst kept secrets in stating his intention to regain the Ryder Cup by pairing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in this morning's top fourball. In a classic opening to the 35th encounter, they will line up to play one of Bernhard Langer's strongest possible combinations: Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie.

Sutton decided on his lead partnership as soon as he had been given the job of US captain almost two years ago, although he only told the two players on Wednesday night.

"There is a perception that the US team doesn't come together as a team and I couldn't think of a louder message than to put those two guys out first," Sutton said. "We came here to win."

Langer strongly suspected Sutton's decision, which brings to mind Sam Torrance's positioning of Montgomerie at the top of the singles order two years ago. "He's done a Sam and all credit for that," Montgomerie said. "Woods and Mickelson, that's the best America can do right now and it's going to be dramatic. But we can win and if we do it will have a dramatic effect on the day. It could be important for Team Europe."

Pairing his team's best two players may appear to be overkill, and also curious given a past in which neither was particularly enamoured of the other. Sutton's thinking may be that Woods, having lost the No 1 spot to the Fijian Vijay Singh and having had his thunder stolen by the left-handed Masters champion, will be trying to beat all three players.

It is a bold theory for fourballs and might have been unlikely to have continued in the foursomes had not Sutton sent out Mickelson to practice in solitude on the North course yesterday with a box of Tiger's brand of golf balls.

Woods played with David Duval, when they were the top-two players in the world, at the Ryder Cup in 1999 but they lost to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood in one of those matches which felt as if Europe won more than just a point.

But Sutton said: "There is always a chance of that happening but I can't imagine anything that would aggravate those two guys more than to get beat. There would be some hell to pay."

While either team's success is not solely dependent on one player's fortunes, Sutton knows he has to get the best out of Woods, who has only won five of his 15 games in the Ryder Cup. The real anomaly is that Woods has only won two of 12 fourball matches in both the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, a quite unfathomable statistic.

Harrington and Montgomerie were put together for the second session on Saturday at The Belfry and beat the Americans' top pairing that week of Mickelson and David Toms. Langer went with another successful pairing from two years ago in the shape of Sergio Garcia and Westwood, who will play Jim Furyk and David Toms.

Finding a partner for Clarke was straightforward as Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is in the form of his life, should prove to be a reliable foil. Luke Donald and Paul Casey were expected to reunite their Walker Cup partnership but instead Langer has opted to pair Donald, the only European rookie on parade, with Paul McGinley, the hero of the Belfry. "McGinley has been awesome the last few weeks and here in practice," Langer said. "I couldn't leave him out."

Sutton's strategy of having his players prepare individually as they would for any other tournament added an intrigue to the practice days which some Ryder Cups have lacked.

It may just be crazy enough that it pays off, but reason and logic suggest it will either have no effect or could go terribly wrong. The American players traditionally have a problem adapting to the fourballs and foursomes and yet Sutton has not addressed this during the preparations.

Foursomes, in particular takes some getting used to, although in the past the US have been better in what they call "alternate shot" than in the fourballs. This morning his team will be under orders to make birdies. "Hal made the comment in the team room the other night that you don't see many holes won with par in the Ryder Cup," Toms said. "We are going to have to be aggressive. There will be a lot of birdies this week.

"It's very important to get off to a good start," he added. "It always seems we leave ourselves a lot to do on Sunday." Europe's hopes usually hinge on building a lead on the first two days, although a four-point advantage at Brookline in '99 did not prove enough.

Since the competition was opened up to the continent in 1979, Europe has won the singles only three times. But two of those occasions brought victories when they were trailing at Oak Hill in '95 and tied after two days at The Belfry two years ago. Langer should use those examples to make sure his players do not expend all their energy by Saturday night.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific