There was no way back for Europe at Hazeltine two years ago after they suffered a 4-0 whitewash in the opening session. That shocker led Darren Clarke, the captain, to send out what Justin Rose has since described as some “Hail Mary pairings” to try to retrieve the situation and, although the visitors rallied to win the afternoon fourballs, they eventually succumbed 17-11 as the Americans claimed a first victory in the event since 2008.
Thomas Bjorn, Clarke’s successor, is hoping there is no repeat of that start for the Europeans on French soil. The Dane has a plan in place and, though prepared for some flexibility over the three days, he’s keen that it doesn’t come unstuck straight away.
“I think it is,” he replied to being asked by The Scotsman about the importance of making a good start at Le Golf National on Friday.
“I think you build your whole mind up about that first day, and how you see that evolving, and you obviously have a plan for Saturday, but that can change from where you are.
“You don’t want to fall behind and see your whole plan that you’ve laid out falling apart in that first session, and that’s what it did for Darren. It’s not easy as a captain. I would dread being 4-0 down after Friday morning’s session, but I think any captain would do that. That’s not a great place to be. You can’t do anything but second guess yourself if you’re in that situation, but, in the end, players have to go out on the golf course and play their golf and do the things that they need to do on the golf course.
“That was an unfortunate start for us last time, and hopefully we’re not in that situation on Friday.”
The Americans were already odds-on favourites before Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship on Sunday and moved up to 13th in the world rankings, giving the team their best-ever average ranking of 11.17. Europe’s average of 19.03 is their third best since the world rankings began in 1986.
“Are we underdogs? Probably on paper we are,” said Bjorn. “But we still believe that we can win. We still believe that we can go out and do a job on the golf course, and we concentrate on us. We concentrate on what we do, our pairings, the people in our team room and everything around that and try and create the best possible environment for those 12 players, and that’s my job.
“That’s the only thing I can focus on. I can’t focus on if we are underdogs or if we are favourites, because that gives me nothing. I’ve said all along; I’m so much into the process that I don’t really look at that kind of picture.
“These teams are the two best teams World Ranking-wise that have been across from each other in this event. It’s all lined up to be something special, so it’s for those 24 players to go out and show that.”