By Ann Liguori
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One of the most exciting international sport competitions begins early Friday morning from Gleneagles in Perthshire, Scotland.
The 40th Ryder Cup starts at 7.35 a.m. Scottish time on Friday morning -- 2.35 a.m. EST. The first format is the fourball matches (better ball).
Leading off for the Americans will be two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson and his buddy, 2012 U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson. They'll battle 2013 U.S. Open champ Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, who's had seven top-five performances this season.
At 7.50 a.m. Scottish time -- 2:50 a.m. EST -- Rickie Fowler, armed with top-five finishes in each major this season, will play with 35-year-old Ryder Cup rookie Jimmy Walker, who won three times in his first nine starts this season. They'll go at it against Thomas Bjorn who, at 43 years of age, is the oldest European player on the team this year and is competing in his first Ryder Cup since 2002.
Bjorn knows a thing or two about the PGA Centenary Course. He won the Johnnie Walker Championship on it in 2011 in a five man playoff. Bjorn will be paired with 2014 U.S. Open champ Martin Kaymer. Kaymer knows what Ryder Cup victories are all about. The 29-year-old German holed the winning putt in Medinah two years ago when he defeated Steve Stricker by one hole and the European team rallied back to beat the American team 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.
Two Ryder Cup rookies, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, will tee it up against European Ryder Cup rookie Stephen Gallacher -- the only Scot playing -- and Ian Poulter, who raises his game a few notches in Ryder Cup action. He owns an impressive 12-3 record in four previous Ryder Cups.
And at 8.20 a.m. Scottish time -- 4.40 a.m. EST -- Phil Mickelson, who becomes the first American to play in 10 Ryder Cups, having qualified for all 10 of them as opposed to being a Captain's Pick, will play with Keegan Bradley. Mickelson and Bradley won all three of their foursome and fourballs in the 2012 Ryder Cup. They'll try to stop top-ranked Rory McIlroy -- winner of the 2014 British Open and 2014 PGA Championship -- and Sergio Garcia, who thrives in Ryder Cup fourballs and foursomes competitions.
Here's what U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson had to say about the pairings overall:
"Obviously, looking at the pairings, looking at some similarities that Paul (McGinley) and I did, we put some strong teams together, some teams that you are obviously familiar with: Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson and Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson together. And it just turns out that it looks like they are playing a very strong team, both of them, and Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy.
"As well as putting out Stephen Gallacher, we put out some rookies early, too. I'm sure Paul has the same idea as I do as far as playing somebody that has not played in the Ryder Cup before. You would like to get them to play all 18 holes, play their own ball and get them out that way. That's the reason I put the two rookies out together, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
"They have been playing some practice rounds together and doing very well. I told them today, I said, 'I'm going to throw you in the ocean without a life-preserver. You're on your own. You get out there and you get it done.' They are all in..."
Question: Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar have been left out of the fourballs. Jim is the highest American in the world rankings, and that's two of your three highest-ranked Americans in the World Rankings. What was your thinking behind leaving two players of that stature?
TOM WATSON: Well, it just fit the formula, and the formula -- it's my own personal formula -- the way we took all the parameters, put them together. I can bet ... you can bet that Kuchar and Furyk, and Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan will be playing tomorrow afternoon. You can bet on it.
Question: Did you wish to be given the lead-in with Phil, taking a little dig at Rory?
TOM WATSON: We looked at the lineup, and you know, it's hard to line them up. We looked at ... you always kind of look and guess what Paul might do, but honestly, it was really where the players wanted to play rather than where we thought Paul was going to put his teams, honestly. It just felt like this. So we got a match."
On paper, the European pairings in the morning fourball format look stronger than the American pairings. And it's so important to get a strong start in the early going to set the tone, although that didn't exactly work in Medinah for the Americans.
Let's hope that Watson and Simpson find the magic, and Fowler and Walker can get the yin and yang thing going. Let's hope that rookies Reed and Spieth have no fear, and Mickelson and Bradley find their inner killer instinct!
Let the games begin!
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