Thursday 25 May 2017

Westwood's brave demands deny McIlroy and McDowell

Tiger Woods will partner Steve Stricker against Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher in the morning fourballs at Celtic Manor
Tiger Woods will partner Steve Stricker against Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher in the morning fourballs at Celtic Manor

KARL MacGINTY

RORY McILROY and Graeme McDowell were going to fire the opening shots for Europe at the Ryder Cup this morning ... until Lee Westwood pulled rank.

The Ulster hotshots were widely fancied to lead the home team into action at Celtic Manor and they certainly were up for the challenge.Yet captain Colin Montgomerie Monty revealed that six-times Ryder Cup veteran Westwood approached him with a firm request to play in the opening game.

"I've done it twice, hitting the very first shot but both times in America," the captain explained. "I've been in the first group a few times in Europe and it's daunting. There's no question, it's not for everyone."

Monty added: "I think Lee Westwood asking me for that position left me with no option but to give him that honour. The first shot for Europe is an important shot and it's only right that Lee should have it at this time.

"With Martin Kaymer behind him, they are a great team, my strongest in the world rankings, though they have a tough job in Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson."

McDowell and McIlroy take on Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar in this morning's second fourball, while Padraig Harrington teams up with Luke Donald against rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton in the fourth game.

Montgomerie was "surprised' by Corey Pavin's decision to put out two rookies in such a key game and cheekily suggested the US skipper was "hiding" Tiger Woods in the third game, where the World No 1 and Steve Stricker take on Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.

Pavin made a glorious Faldo-esque gaffe in his opening speech when he skipped Stewart Cink in the traditional introduction of his players, one-by-one, to the crowd.

Alerted by hoots of laughter, the US captain corrected his error by saying "let's have a special round of applause for Stewart Cink," who then rose from his chair and took a big, theatrical bow.

As Pavin returned to his seat, Jim Furyk quipped to his skipper "you almost made it."

"I think Corey did a very good job in covering his tracks," said Monty of the opening ceremony, adding with a chuckle: "I think it all went well, it was a first class show and, yes, we're one-up!"

FRIDAY FOURBALLS

Game one

Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer v Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

If Westwood sparkles, he and 'rookie' Kaymer -- arguably the hottest player in the world at present -- can take first blood for Europe. Johnson, another rookie, is a big-hitting, birdie machine, but Mickelson has not shown the form, recently, of April's US Masters win.

Game two

Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell v Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar

McDowell and McIlroy, the leading partnership at last year's Vivendi Trophy with three wins out of four matches, have been on fire in practice. They can mark the first appearance by two players from Northern Ireland at the Ryder Cup by inflicting on 2009 Open Champion Cink his first defeat in four fourball matches in this arena.

Game three

Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher v Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods.

Tiger continues his streak of never missing a game at any Ryder Cup he's played, but Pavin's decision to send out arguably his most intimidating pairing -- Stricker and Woods won all four matches they played together at last year's President's Cup -- in the third game. Poulter is relishing this challenge and he and Fisher should at least take a half.

Game four

Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington v Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton.

For the sixth successive Ryder Cup Harrington plays in the opening session, but after a confidence-sapping season, today is an acid test. He must hit it long and straight as Donald, though pin-perfect, will struggle for length. Watson and Overton, the first US rookies to play together in the opening series since 1981, might sneak a half.

Irish Independent

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