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Ryder Cup Roundtable: the Experts Analyze the Opening Foursomes Session

It’s almost time for the interminable analysis to end. Almost.

After four days of run-up, the Ryder Cup is about to begin. The teams’ slightest moves have been scrutinized and every quote has been parsed for subliminal significance. Now it’s time for the actual competition to begin.

Before it does, PGATOUR.COM’s on-site experts are here to give you a quick preview of the Ryder Cup’s opening session. Read below for their takes on the biggest surprises, the best match and which captain did a better job setting his lineup.

1. What surprised you most about the lineups for Friday’s first session?

Will Gray: Certainly the absence of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas sticks out like a sore thumb on the American squad. Thomas’ form and recent struggles certainly lend themselves more to Four-ball, and I believe Zach Johnson’s assertion that he’ll try to give everyone a rest if he can. But for two of the emotional leaders in the U.S. team room to sit out the opening session is certainly a choice and one that will open Johnson up to some second-guessing if the Euros race out to a fast start.

Sean Martin: The obvious answer is the absence of Spieth and Thomas. But outside of that, I think the amount of rookies in the opening session is the biggest surprise. Kudos to the captains for putting their trust in their first-timers. U.S. Captain Johnson said the data bucks the conventional wisdom that rookies easily succumb to the pressure, but Foursomes is the most stressful format of them all. It seemed sensical that rookies would sit out the Foursomes to get eased into the Ryder Cup environment in the morning, then play in Four-ball, where you have a partner to act as your security blanket, in the afternoon. I also thought Harman would pair with Koepka in Foursomes.

Cameron Morfit: The omission of Spieth/Thomas, which U.S. Captain Johnson was questioned about, twice, to start his press conference. (My own question was the first.) Although Johnson spoke more about his confidence in the eight guys who will play Friday morning and the fact that the heat and hills may make it tough to send anyone out for all five sessions, I think I see his (unspoken) reasoning. Neither Spieth nor Thomas is especially adept at hitting fairways, which at rough-choked Marco Simone could turn into a big liability, especially in Foursomes.

2. Which match are you most excited to see?

Gray: Count me in for the anchor match. While both pairings were expected, to see such a matchup of strength vs. strength between Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay and Rory McIlroy/Tommy Fleetwood will be fantastic. The stakes are already high, but they might jump a notch with both teams likely assuming that the fate of the morning session could rest in the hands of these four men. Whichever team takes a full point might feel like they bagged a point and a half, given that they’ll have taken down one of their opponent’s strongest duos in the process. On the European side, it’s a little surprising to see Justin Rose sit out the morning given his strong Foursomes pedigree – but I expect he’ll get a crack at the more difficult format come Saturday.

Martin: Max Homa/Brian Harman vs. Viktor Hovland/Ludvig Aberg. Three rookies are in this match, as well as the reigning FedExCup champ, who’s looking to atone for a difficult debut two years ago. The European side of this tussle is the ultimate driving machine. They both possess an uncanny ability to hit it long and straight which will be an incredible asset this week. Homa and Harman is a Foursomes team I did not anticipate so I’m excited to see how it pans out. Harman is one of the TOUR’s straightest drivers and a top-notch putter, and the 36-year-old has been waiting a long time for this moment.

Morfit: For me, Sam Burns and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler in the lead match looks like the biggest roll of the dice, but the most intriguing match is by far the second one, Homa and Harman against Aberg and Hovland. On paper, each team looks borderline unbeatable. Harman hits a ton of fairways and won amid a hostile crowd at The Open, while Homa went 4-0-0 at the Presidents Cup last year and looks born for this kind of thing. On the other hand, Aberg is a driving machine who won the Omega European Masters in his ninth professional start, and Hovland looked superhuman as he won the BMW Championship and FedExCup. I anticipate the winner of this match getting a lot of playing time this week, despite the trying conditions.

3. Which captain did a better job setting his lineup?

Gray: It should be Donald, right? He’s the one who put Foursomes first, having done so in his belief that he has four rock-solid pairings for that specific format. And here they are. It felt as though Johnson was a bit more on his heels, trying to conjure some new combinations while matching strength with strength. The European lineup likely could have been written on Monday night. It’ll be hard to look at an early Euro deficit and blame the pairings or structure of the lineup, whereas Johnson will have a lot more questions to answer if his crew heads to lunch down 3-1.

Martin: I feel like Johnson took the bigger risks, so I’m going to give him the nod. His teams felt less predictable, and he had to know people would question him about the absence of Spieth and Thomas. He was undeterred, however. Of course, if this all goes poorly Friday morning, it will be easier to second-guess Johnson instead of Donald but that also means there is the potential for more praise if his teams succeed.

Morfit: If it works (a huge “if” at this point), I’d say Johnson. He went pretty far outside the box to not only sit Spieth and Thomas but also to put Burns and Scheffler in the lead match. Burns hasn’t made much noise since winning the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in March, and Scheffler is 151st in Strokes Gained: Putting. To me, Johnson took by far the biggest risk, so he should get the biggest reward – if it works out.

4. What will be the score after the first session and why?

Gray: Europe 2.5, U.S. 1.5. The bookend matches are both nearly coin flips in the eyes of oddsmakers, and for good reason – so I anticipate one of them will actually end in a draw. I think Hovland/Aberg and Fowler/Morikawa likely win their respective matches, meaning the outcome of the session likely hinges on either match No. 1 or 4. If I’m Luke Donald, that’s music to my ears.

Martin: 2-2. Halving a Foursomes session on the road is basically a victory for the U.S. side and a solid start entering Four-ball. That final match is going to be an absolute battle between arguably each side’s strongest team. Schauffele and Cantlay are the United States’ anchor and Fleetwood looks like a strong complement to Europe’s leader, Rory McIlroy.

Morfit: 2-2, with Rahm/Hatton, Homa/Harman, Shane Lowry/Sepp Straka, and Cantlay/Schauffele winning their matches.

5. Has your outlook changed at all since the start of the week?

Gray: Oddsmakers continue to favor the Europeans, with the price on them to win tumbling throughout the week to the point that the home team is now a short favorite – and I agree with that assessment. I thought Europe would win coming into the week and continue to believe that they are better suited for this course. I think Donald’s gamble with trotting out Foursomes first is not without risk, but looking at the lineup I fully expect the Europeans to have the lead by lunchtime tomorrow. It might be all downhill from there.

Martin: No, I don’t think it has. The Europeans’ lineup for the opening session is as expected. They’ll need to rely heavily on their biggest names this week while the United States’ depth is a benefit, especially this week. They have the luxury of sitting a pair as strong as Spieth and Thomas for the opening session. Europe will need to dig deep in the heat on this hilly course if it wants to defeat the United States, and I think that is still true. It will also need big performances from its rookies.

Morfit: Yes, and that’s because of the heat and hilly walk. I had thought that Europe was the favorite, but now I’m not so sure how easy it will be to ride Rory/Rahm/Hovland in all five matches. The U.S. has the deeper team, and I’m starting to believe that will show up in Johnson being able to rest his guys and use fresher legs as this thing heads toward its conclusion. It’ll be close.

Source : PGA Tour