PAUL Lawrie appears to have been earmarked for a role in the opening session of the 39th Ryder Cup after the Aberdonian found himself in elevated company on the opening practice day at Medinah.
On a glorious day on the outskirts of Chicago, the Aberdonian was paired with Spaniard Sergio Garcia in the same group as world No 1 Rory McIlroy and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell.
Garcia had been widely expected to be with Luke Donald but, instead, Donald was sent out with Lee Westwood in an all-English group that also consisted of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.
“I’ve tried to get guys that I believe can complement each other and understand each other really well,” European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said of the pairings.
“That’s why I put Paul Lawrie with the Northern Irish guys and Sergio, who is a guy that gets close to everyone. He can also play with anyone.”
The same probably applies to Lawrie, who would be as comfortable playing with Westwood in the opening session on Friday, if Olazabal did decide to go with Donald and Garcia, a pairing who have won all four of the foursomes they’ve played in the past.
Not surprisingly, though, Olazabal didn’t want to talk about his possible pairings but McDowell revealed he believed they would be “fairly obvious”, hinting that Lawrie would definitely be involved from the off.
“You can pretty much predict our first eight players on Friday morning,” he said. “Myself and Rory, [Ian] Poulter and [Justin] Rose, Donald and Garcia, perhaps a Westwood and Lawrie.”
Olazabal, who has put a silhouette of Seve Ballesteros on the European players’ bags in memory of his friend and former Ryder Cup partner, is comfortable about the course set up this week. It has been claimed the presence of little or no rough will play into the hands of the home team but the Spaniard doesn’t necessarily think that will be the case.
“As [American captain] Davis [Love] said yesterday, it’s kind of a little bit of a freewheel off the tee due to there not being much rough. The guys are going to be able to be aggressive with their drivers,” said Olazabal.
“It doesn’t surprise me the way the golf course is set up in the sense that Valhalla [where the Americans won four years ago], for instance, was similar.
“There, you could see fairways cut a little wider at 280 and the first cut was also a little wider. But the course is the same for everyone, so I don’t think it favours any team. I think we are going to see a bunch of birdies this week and it’s going to be a great show for the crowds.”
Olazabal heaped praise on McDowell, describing him as “one of his main men”, and paid a massive compliment to McIlroy as the 23-year-old prepared for only his second appearance in the biennial bout.
“I would say that, at this moment, he is very close to how good Tiger was at that stretch of time between 1999 and 2002,” he said, referring to Woods winning seven majors in that time. “He’s the world No 1 and is full of confidence. He’s got the whole game and the way he’s played the last few months has been outstanding. It’s great to have players like that on your team.”
The day after it had been hinted the Europeans will wear blue and white in the singles on Sunday to honour Ballesteros, Olazabal revealed his own tribute on their golf bags.
Love later revealed that he’d arranged for the yardage books the European players and caddies are using this week to have the same logo, a silhouette of Seve punching the air after holing the winning putt in the 1994 Open at St Andrews, branded on them.
“The silhouette was pretty obvious as he [Ballesteros] always said said that it was the sweetest moment in his career, making that putt to beat Tom Watson at St Andrews,” said Olazabal.
“It’s the first time Seve is not going to be with us at the Ryder Cup [he spoke to the European players in the team room over the phone at Celtic Manor two years ago].
“He has meant a lot to me and to the team and I wanted to have something that was present to each and every player. So every time somebody goes to grab a club or get something from the bag, they will see the silhouette.”
Insisting he had no problems with the Europeans trying to mark Seve’s impact on the event, Love said: “Jose Maria and I have talked a lot about some different things that we needed to do to help honour Seve. There’s nothing but good about Seve being on their bag.”