Thomas Bjorn, the European captain, showed faith in his rookies after placing a newcomer in each of the four pairings for the opening fourball session of the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National at the expense of the more experienced Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia.
Jon Rahm, Thorbjorn Olesen, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood have all been tossed straight into the heat of battle by the Dane, partnering Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Francesco Molinari respectively as Europe bid to get off to a solid start in their attempt to reclaim the trophy after a heavy defeat at Hazeltine two years ago.
The first session also features Tiger Woods, who was picked by the US captain Jim Furyk to partner Masters champion Patrick Reed. Woods is returning to the event in a playing capacity after a six-year absence, having been handed a wildcard following his remarkable recovery from career-threatening back trouble.
“I think there’s the obvious guys out there, the people that you would all expect to be there, and then there’s a new guy in every group,” said Bjorn of his opening pairings.
“They have been just itching to go, especially Thorbjorn and Jon and Tyrrell. They are just really desperate to get out on that golf course. I felt like it was really important to get them out there because I believe in them and I trust them.”
Poulter, Stenson and Garcia were all handed wildcards by Bjorn but have been left on the sidelines along with Alex Noren, who won the French Open on this course earlier in the year.
“They are all difficult to leave out, especially guys that have played in so many [Ryder Cups],” added Bjorn. “It’s certainly a strong group of guys that are sitting on waiting to get out to play, but they fall into the group like anybody else. They know what they are and what they represent, and what they can go out and deliver. It’s all about building for the whole week.
“I said for a long time this week that we’d be ready to go, and this is it. I felt like on Tuesday, we were dragging our feet a little bit then the last two days have been just fantastic.
“There’s been an unbelievable mood in the camp. They have been great on the golf course and the team room’s been brilliant.”
Rahm, the youngest member of the European team at 23, will partner Rose, the newly-crowned FedEx Cup winner, in the top match against Brooks Koepka, a two-time major winner this year, and debutant Tony Finau. It will be the third Ryder Cup running that Rose has been sent out in the first match and Bjorn reckons Rahm can be the perfect partner for the Englishman on this occasion.
“He wants to have a responsibility,” he said of the Spaniard. “It’s not every rookie in the world you can take and put them on the first tee in the first match of the Ryder Cup, but this one is pretty special. He’s just pure quality and competitive, and just wants to be out there.
“So we’ll send him out tomorrow morning with probably one of the best players or the best player in the world, arguably, at the moment. That’s a pretty good place to be for a rookie. I would look forward to it if it was me.”
McIlroy picked up three points with a rookie, Thomas Pieters, two years ago and will now be looking to strike up another profitable partnership with Olesen, who secured the final automatic spot on the team after a great season that was illuminated with an Italian Open win.
“They both wanted to play with each other. That’s a good start,” said Bjorn of that pairing, with McIlroy and Olesen taking on Dustin Johnson, the world No 1, and Rickie Fowler in the second match. “They get on really well, and they spend a lot of time together.”
In a session that will involve new partnerships across the board, Hatton and Casey are up against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas while Fleetwood and Molinari take on Woods and Reed in the anchor match.
“I think we had a lot of options for Tiger and a lot of guys that wanted to play with him,” said Furyk in explaining a selection he hopes will result in Woods improving on a record that has seen him taste defeat 16 times in 26 matches in fourballs and foursomes in this event.
“Trying to find the right fit and the right person for both of them was key.”
Referring to Woods having only been on one winning side in his seven previous Ryder Cup appearances, Furyk added: “I don’t think we’re really concerned about that. He’s been in good form of late and since the PGA Championship, he’s been playing amazing golf. Coming off of last week [when he won the Tour Championship in Atlanta], it was more about getting him some rest and trying to regroup and get ready to go this week.”
Woods is looking forward to getting down to business but is expecting a tough match against Fleetwood and Molinari, who beat him in the final singles match at Medinah six years ago.
“It’s going to be fun for both of us,” said the 14-time major winner. We’ve been looking forward to teaming up and doing something like this together.
“We finally have our opportunity to go against two great competitors. One is the Open champion [Molinari], and Tommy’s played obviously extremely well and very consistently all year. Those two are some of the best ball-strikers we have on Tour, and this is certainly a ball-striker’s golf course.
“I think the forecast is for some wind tomorrow, so it’s going to be a difficult task to get the ball in play and important to get the ball in play.”