Never has a Ryder Cup captain gone into the opening session claiming such an advantage. Colin Montgomerie last night all but thanked Corey Pavin for handing Europe a point before the 38th staging of the biennial dust-up has teed off here. The Scot's comments have lent this morning's fourballs even more of an edge. As if they needed one.
"I remember walking off the stage at The Belfry in 2002 feeling Europe were one-up and I hope my team felt the same way walking off that stage today," said Montgomerie after the captains speeches at the opening ceremony. "It certainly felt very similar to me."
And so the tone was set for what now seems certain to be a Ryder Cup full of the bristling enmity which has long made it famous. Because of a simple slip-up when reading the autocue and forgetting the player who now probably will never throw off the tag of the "anonymous Open champion", Pavin is in danger of coming in for ridicule. When announcing his players, Pavin overlooked Stewart Cink, the 2009 Turnberry champion. He eventually recovered his poise and gave Cink his mention. Yet it could get worse again for the US captain. Much, much worse.
Montgomerie was not alone in looking down Pavin's order and wondering "what is he doing?" Inevitably, however, it will be the home skipper's bemusement which shall be heard loudest of all.
Where to start with Monty's critique of Pavin's oddball fourballs? Well, how about the fact that Tiger Woods is in hiding for the second time this year? For the first time in four Ryder Cups, Woods will not be appearing in the first match out. He is in the third match – the also-rans' trap. It is a remarkable put-down for the 14-time major winner, even if the suspicion is correct that Pavin was trying to match up Woods with McIlroy.
"I was expecting Tiger to go first or fourth," said Montgomerie. "Tiger being hidden is a different move. I don't know whether Tiger asked for that or not. But obviously Corey has spoken to Tiger and he is happy where he is."
Not as happy as Rory McIlroy. The Independent understands that the original plan was for the young Ulsterman to play in the first match alongside Graeme McDowell but because of the Woods controversy he was moved down the order. McIlroy had previously stated how much he wanted to face Woods because of his poor form and Woods had reacted, confronting him in a Chicago clubhouse. Montgomerie did not go so far as to admit that he was protecting the rookie by positioning him in the second match, but he did convey his satisfaction.
"I don't know if Corey did think I was going to put Rory out third," he said. "But I am glad they are not playing together in the first game. It will give Rory, in particular, an idea of the Ryder Cup and what it is all about. He can get settled in. If they do happen to play against each other, he will be aware of the situation that faces him."
In fact, there was nothing but positive vibes from Montgomerie and that was hardly surprising when the draw was held up for inspection. If he was going to put anyone up against Woods and Steve Stricker, it would probably have been Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. But Ian Poulter would have come a close second. Last night the Englishman tweeted how much the match will mean to him. "I have never been so excited to play a Ryder Cup match," he said. "Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker vs Poults and Fish – the house is about to come down."
Fish is Ross Fisher the rookie. He is a fine match-play merchant, just as Poulter, the other reigning World Match Play champion, is. But it would be a stunning reversal if Woods was beaten and one that could prove so damaging to Pavin's cause. Because amongst the four fourballs the world Nos 1 and 4 look America's best bet of delivering a point. Meanwhile, the US will be underdogs in the rest.
There are obvious chances of a success in the first tussle as Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson are veritable birdie machines. But it will take a machine to stop Westwood and Kaymer, as they are consistency in golf spikes. While Pavin says he does not know who will hit the opening drive (expect Mickelson), Monty declared that honour will befall Westwood. "We felt he deserved it," he said. Having not played for seven weeks because of a calf strain this will be one hell of a reintroduction.
However, Westwood does possess the track record to warrant such faith. The same cannot be said of Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton. This was the pairing which raised most eyebrows; two untested rookies being thrown into the all-important final game. Jim Furyk is left on the sidelines, despite winning $11.35m in the FedEx Cup last Sunday and so, too, is Hunter Mahan, despite remaining unbeaten when playing all five games on his debut two years ago. Nobody expected that, even if Pavin, like Monty, vowed to use the discarded men in the afternoon. Least of all Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald.
"It is a strange one," said Montgomerie. "It will be a tough match but I can honestly tell you that Luke and Padraig were not expecting to play two rookies in the last game. It is an important game. Say we are 2-1 down and get back to 2-2, or 2-1 up and get to 3-1?"
The latter scenario must be figured more likely. If that does come to pass then this match could look ominous for the US at the very first lunchtime. Away teams struggle to come back from a first-session deficit (in fact it has not happened for 37 years). Momentum is everything in the Ryder Cup. Has Pavin made a fatal mistake or a courageous call? All will be revealed here this morning.
The weather is set to be awful for the morning, before brightening up in the afternoon. But by the time the sun gets up and the foursomes begin, the Americans could effectively have been put to bed. One down, 131/2 points to go? That's what Monty and his boys were thinking.
James Corrigan predicts the fourballs
Lee Westwood & Martin Kaymer v Phil Mickelson & Dustin Johnson
A clash of styles, of temperament, but, probably most significantly, of status. Westwood is the best player on the home team and Kaymer is the best young player. With no disrespect to Tiger Woods, the same applies to their opponents – at the moment. Westwood and Kaymer are straight long drivers, Mickelson and Johnson are long drivers. Enough said. The majority of fans will have something early to cheer.
Prediction Europe 3&2
Rory McIlroy & Graeme McDowell v Matt Kuchar & Stewart Cink
The Ulster boys prefer to be the pacesetters, but they will still have gone to bed last night full of confidence. Cink, the 2009 Open champion, should not be underestimated and Kuchar is one of the world's form players. But surely the flair of McIlroy married with the dogged persistence of the US Open winner, McDowell, will be an irresistible mix. McIlroy has avoided Woods and in his relief will be a tough nut to crack.
Prediction Europe 2&1
Ian Poulter & Ross Fisher v Tiger Woods & Steve Stricker
No 2 v No 1 – or so Poulter would have had it in his infamous "one day it will just be me and Tiger" statement a few years ago. Except it will not just be Poulter and Woods as Fisher and Stricker will obviously be key. Poulter and Woods will be the protagonists and the former's immense self-belief will certainly not have the home duo as the underdogs. It will be close but if the Americans perform, they win. Simple as.
Prediction US 2&1
Padraig Harrington & Luke Donald v Bubba Watson & Jeff Overton
A match-up from the dreams of Montgomerie. Watson and Overton may well be itching to play but unless they perform well above their station they will not be up to scratch. Donald will hit many greens and Harrington will make many birdies. At least, that's the plan. Funny things happen in the Ryder Cup, but two rookies beating a three-time major winner and the man ranked eighth in the world. Shouldn't happen.
Prediction Europe 3&2
Players waiting for a game in the afternoon
Miguel Angel Jimenez 4th Ryder Cup
Played: 12 Points: 3.5
Peter Hanson rookie
Edoardo Molinari rookie
Francesco Molinari rookie
Rickie Fowler rookie
Jim Furyk 7th Ryder Cup
Played: 24 Points: 9.5
Zach Johnson 2nd Ryder Cup
Played: 4 Points: 1.5
Hunter Mahan 2nd Ryder Cup
Played: 5 Points: 3.5Reuse content