Ryder Cup 2021 team: What are the pairings for opening session at Whistling Straits?

Padraig Harrington reckons the “whole world will be watching” when a mouth-watering match gets the 43rd Ryder Cup underway at Whistling Straits on Friday.

Padraig Harrington and his European players before the opening ceremony for the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
Padraig Harrington and his European players before the opening ceremony for the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

The Irishman was referring to an opening foursomes contest that will see Spanish duo Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm go head-to-head with US dream team Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

Garcia, the event’s record points-scorer with 25.5 points, is joining forces with world No 1 Rahm for the first time on this stage and the pair will be aiming to evoke memories of the iconic Ryder Cup partnership of Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.

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It will be a tough start for the event’s new Spanish Armada, though, as Spieth and Thomas won three points together on a defeated US side at Le Golf National in Paris in 2018.

Padraig Harrington waves during the opening ceremony in Kohler, Wisconsin. Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images.

“The whole world will be watching that one,” predicted Harrington, who has sent out all of his experienced players in the opening session.

Playing in the event for a fifth time, Paul Casey partners rookie Viktor Hovland in the second match against Open champion Collin Morikawa and world No 2 Dustin Johnson.

Lee Westwood, making a record-equalling 11th appearance, will have fellow Englishman Matthew Fizpatrick at his side as they take on Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger in the third tussle.

And, in another belter in the bottom match, Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter face FedEx Cup winner Patrick Cantlay and Olympic champion Xander Schauffele on their debuts.

Ian Poulter acknowledges the crowd during the opening ceremony. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.

“I'm comfortable with the team I've put out there,” said Harrington, who revealed he’d probably been the “earliest ever” in the history of the event in terms of telling his players about the pairings.

“Strong, experienced team,” he added of his selections. “I had 12 players who could play foursomes, so that was a pretty tough decision to have to rest four.

“I think it was pretty clear to me where we were going, though. Very happy with the partnerships I've put out there and clearly it's interesting when you see the match ups.”

None more so than the one that will get a contest that was delayed by 12 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic underway at the Wisconsin venue.

Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka at the opening ceremony for the 43rd Ryder Cup. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

“It's a big honour,” said Rahm of being sent out in the first match along with his compatriot. “It means the captain has faith in me and who I'm partnered with. Spanish legacy is deep in The Ryder Cup and I'm hoping we can start a new tradition.”

Garcia couldn’t be happier about how he’ll start his 10th appearance against the Americans, saying: “It's going to be exciting. It's going to be nervy on the first tee but that's what the Ryder Cup is all about.

“I've been there before, and I'm very, very excited and I hope that we can play great like I know we can and get a point for Europe.”

Thomas was the star man for the US in 2018, picking up four points out of five, while Spieth sparked his love for this event by shining on his debut at Gleneagles in 2014

“I feel Stricks has instilled a lot of confidence in me and Justin,” said Spieth. “We weren't sure where he was going to put us until this afternoon and very excited to go out and try to set the pace for rest of the team.”

Tommy Fleetwood, who won four matches alongside Francesco Molinari three years ago, has been left out of the opening session on this occasion, as have another Paris player in Tyrrell Hatton, as well as rookies Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger.

However, Harrington and his vice captains had a plan in place before arriving at Whistling Straits on Monday and they have stuck with that.

Referring to the other pairings, he said Hovland and Casey were “equally matched up” while he also liked the idea of Fitzpatrick, who he feels is “playing great” alongside a “stalwart” in Westwood,

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As for the bottom partnership, the Irishman said: “Obviously everybody would have predicted the last one. I assume that one wasn't too hard. Rory and Ian have played well in the past.”

The first time, of course, was when they delivered a crucial point in the penultimate session to spark a memorable last-day fightback at Medinah in 2012.

“We've put points on the board for Europe, which is really important, but we've also had a lot of fun doing it,” said McIlroy of them being back together.

“So we are going to go out there this week and enjoy ourselves and play our absolute hearts out and try to put points on the board for our team.”

Poulter said of their latest assignment: “This is going to be another special match. It's going to be windy. It's going to be a good test.”

Stricker, who is captaining the US in his home state of Wisconsin and became tearful at the opening ceremony as he made reference to his two daughters in the crowd, said he “felt great” about the pairings.

“Some teams have played together over the years, whether in Ryder Cups or Presidents Cups, so we wouldn't put them out there if we didn't feel good about them, let me just put it that way,” he said.

“So we are extremely excited about how these guys are playing, and the order which they are going out.”

Both captains said they planned to play all 12 of their players on the opening day, which should mean that Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Harris English and Scottie Scheffler will join the aforementioned European quartet in playing in the afternoon fourballs.

On Fleetwood sitting out the opening session, Harrington said: “That very much says a lot about our team, that he is comfortable after going 4-0 and he's not there in the foursomes the first morning.

“He can look around his team and be confident that there's other people are taking up that strain, and he's prepared to sit there and wait his chance in the afternoon.

“Thar really just sums up our team how balanced it is and how comfortable and the understanding of the players that they have to give other people their opportunity, as well.”

During that opening ceremony, Stricker earned the wrath of some of the local fans by saying in Green Bay Packers territory that he was a Chicago Bears fan. “That didn't turn out so good,” he admitted later.

In one of the practice rounds, the European players wore Green Bay Packer colours and Harrington, who showed his class by getting winning Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew to stand up in the crowd and be applauded, said jokingly: “We might recycle our lovely Green Bay Packer-esque outfits!”

Foursomes pairings (US names first; UK times)

1.05pm Justin Thomas/Jordan Spieth v Jon Rahm/Sergio Garcia

1.21pm Dustin Johnson/Collin Morikawa v Paul Casey/Viktor Hovland

1.37pm Brooks Koepka/Daniel Berger v Lee Westwood/Matt Fitzpatrick

1.53pm Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffele v Rory McIlroy/Ian Poulter

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