Ryder Cup Day 1 Preview, Prediction, and Picks
The pairings are set, so let’s take a look at the Friday foursomes and where you should be looking to place your money in the opening session of the 43rd Ryder Cup.
Start time: 7:05am CT
Justin Thomas & Jordan Spieth vs. Jon Rahm & Sergio Garcia
After Paris, there seemed little chance that Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth would be split up and it is no surprise to see them out first. As leaders of this team, they will look to put up a point early but will have to overcome the World’s No.1 player, Jon Rahm, and the highest-scoring player in Ryder Cup history, Sergio Garcia.
Padraig Harrington had seemingly doused water on the chances of putting the Spanish duo together, citing his own past relationship with fellow Irishman, Paul McGinley, as a reason to swerve Nationality pairings, but the pair clearly did enough to change his mind.
I have spoken about the fragility of Thomas and Spieth, with Thomas’ putting woes and Spieth’s struggles off the tee, but they’ll take confidence from each other. You cannot really mention Thomas’ putting without acknowledging this being an issue for Garcia as well, but the Spaniard seems to find something in this event, and with the World’s best alongside him, you would expect a lot of birdie looks. A European duo that should drive the ball well all day, they should play the more stress-free golf tee-to-green, and if they can deliver on the putting surface, I like their chances of coming out on top against the USA’s golden duo. It’s fine lines between the two sides, but I will take Europe in the opening game. This would be a huge scalp for Europe from the jump, and the Spaniards are a great pairing to deliver that point.
- The Pick: Europe Win
Start time: 7:21 am CT
Dustin Johnson & Collin Morikawa vs. Paul Casey & Viktor Hovland
Admittedly, I was hoping Paul Casey would draw the easiest matchup of the opening session, getting my “Top European Points Leader” bet off to the best start, but it wasn’t to be.
The good news is Casey has the smiling assassin, Viktor Hovland, by his side. These are two of the four players I think could play all five sessions, joining Rahm and Rory McIlroy, and I quite like that Harrington has entrusted Casey to partner Hovland.
In Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa, the Europeans have a tough task ahead of them, with Johnson a classy operator on this course. He should have won his first major here in 2010, and also finished T7 in 2015. Morikawa then has an excellent guide around this course, and he will surely contribute. All four of these players have had their putting questioned in the past, but Johnson has improved greatly, Morikawa is streaky, and the two European’s seem to make the putts when they need to.
I find these hard to separate, but I have seen Johnson lose enough Foursomes matches (1-3-0) to suggest Casey and Hovland can sneak a point here and give Europe the hope they may need looking at the latter two matches. We must acknowledge the strange pairings Johnson has been a part of in the past, and Morikawa is a two-time major winner already but with his fitness concerns and the longer course, I think the Europeans can do it.
- The Pick: Europe Win
Brooks Koepka & Daniel Berger vs. Lee Westwood & Matt Fitzpatrick
Do you smell that? That’s reality kicking in, and we get to see the first indication in the gulf in depth between the two sides. On paper, this may be one of USA’s weaker pairings, with question marks over Brooks Koepka’s health and the potential for Daniel Berger to struggle, but they drew the right straw here.
In Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick, USA have managed to get a matchup against arguably the weakest duo Europe could have created. Westwood had an exceptional 2020, and a strong start to 2021, but his form has virtually deserted him since THE PLAYERS Championship back in March. Alongside him is Europe’s strongest putter, but Fitzpatrick may have a tough time at Whistling Straits. The English duo must rely on accuracy here, otherwise, they could be putting themselves behind the 8-ball, given their iron play.
Berger and Koepka have history in this format, losing to Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace in the opening session of the 2017 Presidents Cup. They were not just the one pairing to lose for USA in the opening session, but only one of two duos to lose for the USA that week.
There’s only so much you could do with solid putting though and it’s not enough to rely on, so I predict a win for USA, and a quieter workload for Fitzpatrick and Westwood from here on out. Koepka wouldn’t be sent out this early if he didn’t feel good and Berger has consistently been excellent since returning from the pandemic in 2020.
If Westwood was in better form, you would hope for a vintage performance, but it seems unlikely the way he’s playing.
The Pick: USA Win
Start time: 7:53am CT
Patrick Cantlay & Xander Schauffele vs. Rory McIlroy & Ian Poulter
The two most obvious combinations for USA have been put out in the morning in the shape of Thomas/Spieth and Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schaffuele, and the latter have drawn a fiery duo.
Rory McIlroy has been Europe’s leader for a number of years, playing in four out of five matches on debut in 2010, and all five matches in four subsequent appearances. He goes out with the Postman, Ian Poulter, who will lead the field in SG: Chest Pounding if nothing else.
Unfortunately for McIlroy, not only could this be one Ryder Cup too far for Poulter, but they’ve been here before. The duo have won points as a pairing in the past (2012 Fourballs and 2018 Friday Foursomes) but when they came up against Thomas and Spieth in Paris they were beaten handily (4&3) and now face similarly tough opposition.
McIlroy has only won his opening match once in five attempts and I think he will struggle this time around as well, given the strength of his opponent. In recent years McIlroy has been tasked with taking out weaker players in the first session, in the hope he can evoke a reaction, and that’s what he’ll try to do with Poulter. Cantlay and Schauffele will not rise to the emotion bound to pour out of their opponents though, and will instead take them on in a calm and clinical fashion. A second USA win will leave it nicely poised going into the afternoon.
The Pick: USA Win