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.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
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

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam