Ryder Cup week is upon us. As the members of the United States and European teams descended to Le Golf National in Paris, anticipation is in the air for this year’s Ryder Cup. The United States has not won on European soil since 1993. Europe is trying to retain the Cup for the first time since 2014.
Captains Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn will be tasked with deciding which pairs of players to go with for the Friday and Saturday four-ball and foursome matches. While the golfers have started practicing in pods of four, there is still a lot to be decided between now and Friday. According to European Captain Thomas Bjorn, he is about 85 percent done.
“I don’t feel like I’ve given away anything in what’s happening on the golf course today,” Bjorn said. “I’m pretty much set my mind.”
Captain Furyk elicited a similar response.
“I think coming in here we both were going to have a plan of exactly what we wanted to try to do,” Furyk said. “There’s always going to be a reaction to what you’re seeing on the golf course, what you’re feeling, options to branch off of, but I’ve got a really good idea of what I’d like to do for Day 1.”
With that said, here are my five pairings that will have success on Friday and Saturday.
5) Tony Finau and Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson comes into the Ryder Cup with a 6-5 career record. Tony Finau is making his Ryder Cup debut.
In terms of stats, both these guys are power hitters who can drive the ball a mile off the tee. This season, Johnson was first in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Tee to Green, averaging drives of 314 yards off the tee. Finau is ranked fourth in the PGA Tour in driving distance, averaging 315.3 yards off the tee.
Le Golf National is a course that favours terrific ball strikers. Both these golfers can put each other in terrific positions off the tee, particularly in the alternate shot foursomes. Expect these two to fly under the radar as a solid pairing choice.
4) Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm
Another player making his Ryder Cup debut, Jon Rahm enters this competition hoping to rise to the success of Spanish golfers in the past like Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. According to Captain Bjorn, he believes that Rahm has the tools to be a solid player for Ryder Cups to come.
“Jon comes in off a long list of great Spanish players,” said Bjorn. “Spanish players come into any Ryder Cup team knowing the history and the torch they carry for Spain in that way, and he will do that. He has the passion and the desire, and he wants to be on the golf course.”
“He’s a phenomenal player, and probably the most exciting player to come in the game since Rory. He has a powerful and strong and has a great attitude to go where he wants to go in this game.”
Rory McIlroy’s career Ryder Cup record is 9-6-4. Given the emotion and energy exuded by both players, I see Rahm and McIlroy feeding on each other’s enthusiasm on the golf course. They both hit the ball far and have the capabilities to make some clutch putts.
“My proudest moments in golf have definitely been my major championships but my best experiences, by far, have been Ryder Cups,” says McIlroy. It’s the most fun I have had playing in a tournament. That started at Celtic Manor in 2010 and has not wavered the whole way through.”
3) Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau
The Big Cat and the Mad Scientist. The old teaming up with the young. The pairing of Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau has been talked about for weeks and is about to come to fruition in Paris. From playing practice rounds together to seeing each other in action at the Dell Technologies Championship, it is clear that Tiger and Bryson have a great deal of mutual respect and admiration for each other.
“I don’t think it’s about any type of competition internally with the team. It’s more about what we’re going to do to put the four best teams out any day we go out,” says DeChambeau. “It would be awesome to play with Tiger. Is it going to happen? We’re still working on it.”
DeChambeau is making his Ryder Cup debut, coming into this week with three PGA Tour victories last season. Woods is coming off his first victory in five years at the TOUR Championship, beaming with confidence and an appreciation to once again be back playing at a Ryder Cup.
“My overall Ryder Cup record, not having won as a player since 1999, is something that hopefully we can change,” says Woods. “We haven’t won as a US squad here in 25 years on foreign soil, so hopefully that will change this week, as well.”
With Tiger and Bryson both having the ability to drive the ball in the fairway and make crucial putts, this pairing could be lethal against a European squad that consists of five rookies.
2) Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose
If there is one Ryder Cup pairing that has been formidable the last few years, it’s Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. In the last two Ryder Cups, they have played together six times, winning four matches and losing only two.
“We just found a great partnership at Gleneagles, and we played extremely well together,” Stenson said. “We play a similar game where we see the golf course in a similar way. I hope that we can form a lineup at some point and get some more chances of winning points for Europe.”
Rose is currently the World Number One and is also the recently crowned FedEx Cup champion. The contrast couldn’t be more accurate for Stenson, who has been battling an elbow injury all summer long. But the Swede feels physically healthy and ready to go play as many matches required to get the Europeans the Ryder Cup.
“If I’m picked to play three matches, I’m picked to play five matches or two matches, or however many matches I’m asked to play,” said Stenson. “Fitness-wise, we’re good. I can’t say that I can do 40 pull-ups at the moment, but I probably couldn’t do that before the elbow problem.”
1) Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed
It may seem predictable and cliche but when Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed are paired together at the Ryder Cup, magic happens on a golf course. They played seven matches over the last two Ryder Cups, finishing undefeated in foursomes and fourball at the 2016 Ryder Cup in Hazeltine. At last year’s Presidents Cup, Spieth and Reed played four matches together, generating 3.5 points in the process.
But in today’s practice session, Spieth and Reed were split up. While it is only Tuesday and there are three more days of preparation before the Ryder Cup commences, it may point to a potential split up between the two American golfers.
“It’s going to come down to what Captain thinks and what we all think is best for the team,” Reed said on his coupling with Spieth. “You know, it’s just going to really all depend on what we think are the best people we can put out and best teams we can put out since some guys are going to sit at some point, and who we feel can go out and get us the most points possible.”
Spieth is coming into the Ryder Cup coming off his worst performance year to date. He did not win a tournament and did not even qualify to the TOUR Championship at East Lake. The star golfer was also shown wearing a protective wrist bandaging, citing some tenderness in that area.
But rest may prove to be a benefit for Spieth. He will be extra motivated to prove that he still has the assets that have made him one of the best young golfers in the world. Being paired with Reed can reignite Spieth’s quality play, which can help the United States secure some much-needed points on foreign soil.
Despite the two not playing on Tuesday, expect Spieth and Reed to be paired at some point during the Ryder Cup, using their energy to gain confidence for the entire American squad.