By Mark Lamport-Stokes
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – Ryder Cups are known for being one of the most highly charged occasions in sport and the 41st edition is poised for an electrifying launch at Hazeltine National on Friday in the opening foursomes.
In a bid to give holders Europe a fast start to the biennial competition, captain Darren Clarke will send out golfing heavyweights Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson first in a mouth-watering matchup.
Olympic champion Rose and British Open winner Stenson, who went 3-0 when paired together at Gleneagles two years ago, will face sizzling American duo Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, two young guns who relish going toe-to-toe.
Twice major winner Spieth and Reed, aged 23 and 26 respectively, formed an unbeaten partnership as rookies at the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland.
“Justin and Henrik are a very proven, successful Ryder Cup pairing,” Clarke told reporters. “Both are very strong players … they were always going to be my choice for leading Europe off in this match.
“That was never, never in doubt.”
Reed was thrilled to be in the first match out, saying: “I’m pumped. To go up against Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, it’s going to be a battle of four great golfers.”
United States captain Davis Love III, like Clarke, always had a feeling that Spieth and Reed would face Rose and Stenson in the first match.
“We kind of knew what he (Clarke) was going to do with that first group and guessed a little bit on the rest of them,” said Love. “That first match is going to be exciting.”
Clarke opted for a blend of experience and form in his final combination, pairing English veteran Lee Westwood with long-hitting Belgian Thomas Pieters, a rookie who won his third European Tour title at last month’s Made in Denmark tournament.
In the second match out, fan favorites Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler take on Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Englishman Andy Sullivan with Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson next out against Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Germany’s Martin Kaymer.
“We just picked four of our best alternate-shot pairings … and lined them up in the best order we thought for getting started so we’re excited about our four,” said Love.
“We knew Europe was going to put out great teams no matter what we did so we put out great teams as well.”
A notable absentee from Clarke’s pairings was Masters champion Danny Willett, whose preparations for his Ryder Cup debut were disrupted by his brother Peter Willett’s published lampooning of U.S. golf fans earlier this week.
Clarke, however, said that he had never intended Willett to play in the opening session at Hazeltine.
“With regard to Danny, he will be playing tomorrow afternoon,” said Clarke. “I have a plan for what I’m going to try and execute this week.
“Danny is fine. Danny is ready to go. He wants to play. He’s like all the guys; he’s disappointed he’s not playing in the morning, and he understands what I’m trying to do is for the team. There is no individual in our 12. It’s about the team.”
Europe have triumphed eight times in the last 10 Ryder Cups and won the trophy for a third successive time with a crushing victory by 16-1/2 points to 11-1/2 at Gleneagles in 2014.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez/Larry Fine)