Five Ryder Cup Match-Ups to Watch for

CHASKA, MN - OCTOBER 02: Rory McIlroy of Europe and Patrick Reed of the United States look on from the fourth tee during singles matches of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club on October 2, 2016 in Chaska, Minnesota. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The ultimate test of teamwork in golf has officially landed in Paris. Host site, Le Golf National, is in pristine shape and is ready wreak havoc on both squads. As Team USA and Team Europe prep for the grueling weekend ahead, fans around the world can’t help but imagine the endless possibilities of potential pairings and match-ups ready to unfold.

Four rounds of foursome and four-ball matches are slated for Friday and Saturday. The two-man pairings for each side are tough to choose for even the most seasoned captains and vice captains. Each international team has a host of champions and contenders to pair with one another, let alone throw into head to head battles during singles matches on Sunday.

Team USA hasn’t won overseas since 1993 but the proper pairings could change the fate of the red, white and blue come Sunday. Meanwhile the Europeans look to take their fourth Ryder Cup victory since 2010. While the combinations are nearly endless, a few distinct match-ups are sure to excite golf fans everywhere.

5) Koepka/Johnson vs. Fleetwood/Rose

A battle of polar opposites from a strength perspective would surely kickstart fans from the opening tee in Paris. The duo of “Bomber Brothers” Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson know how to go low from the opening tee shot. Koepka exploded on the PGA Tour this past season winning both the 2018 U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

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Both Koepka and Johnson finished in the top-10 in strokes gained off the tee this season and both men are front runners for PGA Tour Player of the Year (Koepka was officially named PGA Player of the Year on Wednesday). Johnson’s tough fought three wins this season placed him fourth in FedEx Cup standings to round out the year. On the other side of the course, the English duo of Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose would make for an intriguing counterpart to the long drivers from the United States.

Few can deny the impact Justin Rose made on the golf world over the past two years. Between the PGA, European and Asian tours Rose has amassed five victories in addition to an Olympic gold medal in 2016. On top of all that hardware the South African native captured his first FedEx Cup to finish off 2018.

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Rose and Fleetwood each finished in second and fifth place, respectively, in birdie average on the PGA Tour this season. Fleetwood quickly rose up the ranks thanks to his sensational touch and scoring around the greens. A classic long ball versus short game match would propel the Ryder Cup’s opening matches into an instant fever pitch.

4) Finau vs. Molinari

This past season Tony Finau and Francesco Molinari catapulted themselves into golf’s limelight with their persistence and dedication across the globe. At this year’s Open Championship, the eyes of the world were locked on Molinari. For the first time in The Open’s 147 events an Italian hoisted the famous Claret Jug.

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Molinari turned in two more victories in 2018 to land within the top six of the Official Word Golf Rankings. While he may not have the best individual record in his two previous Ryder Cup appearances, Molinari has yet to be on the losing team with the cup up for grabs. Playing for Team USA for the first time in his career, Tony Finau will look to make an immediate impact for the Americans in France this year.

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Proficiency off the tee and precision on his approaches led Finau to 11 top-10 finishes in 2018 including three in the four major championships. The native of Salt Lake City, Utah improved by leaps and bounds this season earning him his first captain’s pick of his career. A head to head showdown between two of the fastest rising competitors could provide surprising fireworks late on Sunday with the Ryder Cup on the line.

3) Woods/DeChambeau vs. Garcia/Rahm

A classic clash of brains and brawn could prove to be a true turning point in the latter stages of foursomes. Coming off the heels of his PGA Tour Championship win, Tiger Woods has been closely linked with “The Mad Scientist” Bryson DeChambeau. With Woods carding his 80th career victory and DeChambeau notching three tour victories, including two FedEx Cup playoff wins, the newly minted dynamic duo should be a feared twosome heading into Le Golf National.

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Thought of as one of the most cerebral players on tour, Woods worked his way back both mentally and physically from four back surgeries to once again be a champion on the PGA Tour. Even more analytical than one of his mentors before him, DeChambeau may take the intellectual equation to a level unseen before in the game of golf. But how would the pairing of Woods and DeChambeau fare against the raw emotion of Team Europe’s two Spaniards?

As one of the leaders on the world points list, 23-year old Spanish supernova Jon Rahm earned his spot as an automatic qualifier for his first stint on Team Europe. Since January 2017, Rahm has five victories on the PGA and European Tours. A solo fourth place at this year’s Masters drew Rahm comparisons to 2017 Masters champion and fellow teammate Sergio Garcia.

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It’s true 2018 wasn’t Garcia’s best year to date especially coming off one of the best season’s of his career in 2017. It’s Garcia’s veteran instincts and knowledge that made him a surefire captain’s pick this year for Team Europe. Garcia’s outstanding 9-3-3 foursomes record mixed with the dynamic presence of Rahm would make for formidable foes against Woods and DeChambeau.

2) Spieth/Thomas vs. Stenson/Poulter

Two undeniable captain’s picks this year for European captain Thomas Bjorn were England’s Ian Poulter and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson. Combined, these two decorated champions have appeared in nine previous Ryder Cups. Both played in 2008 and 2014 but have yet to be paired together.

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Poulter has been one of the most successful Team Europe participants with a combine 12-4-2 record. Meanwhile this year on tour Stenson finished top-10 in strokes gained approach and tee to green. The passion of Poulter mixed with the ball striking of Stenson would cause a challenge for any twosome from Team USA.

Perhaps the most in sync duo of the Americans would be the lifelong friendship of Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Thomas is making his first Ryder Cup appearance after battling for first in the World Golf Ranks for much of the past two years. In 2017 he was named Player of the Year after winning both the PGA Championship and FedEx Cup.

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Since his first Ryder Cup appearance in 2014, Spieth is a combined 4-1-2 in foursome and fourball matches. Spieth’s ability to grind out a victory from seemingly any position makes him, alone or as a team, a tough test for any European. Knowing one another since the age of 13 it’s likely we’ll see Spieth and Thomas together at some point in Paris. The veteran tandem of Stenson and Poulter would seemingly make the perfect first test for the young stars.

1) Reed vs. Rory II

Ryder Cup rivalries don’t get much better than what fans witnessed at Hazeltine National Golf Club in 2016. After three straight years of defeat Team USA recaptured victory thanks in part to “Captain America” Patrick Reed. Reed helped lead the Americans to a powerful 17-11 victory over Team Europe.

Just as every superhero needs his arch-nemesis, Reed had Rory McIlroy two years ago. The first pairing to tee off Sunday made sure to set the pace early for their teams. Each powerful putt made was immediately answered by a more emphatic finish by the competitor.

Both competitors elicited the roar of the crowd by every long putt and point swing. The eighth hole will undoubtedly be etched in fans memories for years to come. McIlroy made what seemed to be an impossible 60-foot putt before yelling to the stunned crowd “I can’t here you”.

With the pressure on, Reed stepped up to his putt to answer from 20-feet away. As the quick moving stroke rolled straight into the bottom of the cup Reed stared McIlroy down and waved his finger to let the Irishman and Team Europe that things weren’t over yet. The only thing better than reliving this historic 2016 war of the worlds would be a reignited rematch at Le Golf National.

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