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Irish set to play key singles roles

EUROPEAN captain Colin Montgomerie is banking on his trio of Irishmen to play key roles in the chase for the magic figure of 14.5 points that will deliver the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor Resort today.

Montgomerie was delighted with the 5.5 points gained from a possible six in yesterday's play, and has placed Rory McIlroy at number two singles, with Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell at numbers 11 and 12 respectively.

The skipper has front-loaded his team with world No 2 Lee Westwood leading off against Steve Stricker, followed by McIlroy v Stewart Cink, and Luke Donald against Jim Furyk.

But he has warned against complacency, despite Europe, leading 9.5 to 6.5, needing "only" five points to win the trophy.

"No. There will be nothing like that. Brookline was mentioned in the locker room there tonight. We were 10-6 up at Brookline and we lost. This isn't as good a position as then," said Montgomerie.

Speaking of the Irish players, he commented: "I'm sure Rory can cope and that's why he is in the second singles match because we feel he is that good.

"There was method why I selected Padraig Harrington for this team. He spoke brilliantly last night in the team room. He has been brilliant off the course and brilliant on it. Graeme McDowell is a very confident young man and he gained in confidence with his US Open success. There's a reason why he's in that number 12 position, and it's because he's a very confident and very solid performer."

HEAD TO HEAD: The Singles

09.05: Lee Westwood v Steve Stricker

Clash of the Titans. Westwood has been in phenomenal form and Stricker, despite the 6 & 5 drubbing he and Woods received yesterday from Westwood and Donald, is his equal in dogged steadiness. Have to hope that weariness after long lay-off doesn't take from Westwood's game.

09.17: Rory McIlroy v Stewart Cink

Billy the Kid against the old gunfighter. Cink is as tough as teak, a formidable match play exponent and he will love the chance to put McIlroy firmly in his place. Rory won't have his sidekick McDowell alongside him, but after yesterday he is on a high and will hope to continue that against Cink.

09.29 Luke Donald v Jim Furyk

The crowds love Donald and chant

"Luuuuuuke" every time he does something good, which has been quite often over the last few days. Reliable, steady and not easily fazed, he will have to be in top form to see off experienced Furyk. Expect this one to go all the way to the 18th.

09.41: Martin Kaymer v Dustin Johnson

A rookie-fest but it's the USPGA champion Kaymer against a player who won the BMW Championship just a couple of weeks ago. There have to be questions against Johnson because of his inability to close out big tournaments this year, including the US Open when he was in contention on day four.

09.53: Ian Poulter v Matt Kuchar

Ian Poulter has now won six of his last eight Ryder Cup matches and he's really up for it this week. As winner of the World Matchplay last February, Poulter knows all about head-to-head contests. Kuchar has taken time to justify expectations of success when he turned pro in 2000 but is unbeaten so far in this event.

10.05: Ross Fisher v Jeff Overton

A first taste of Ryder Cup singles play for both players. Fisher was buzzing after he and Padraig Harrington took out Furyk and Dustin Johnson yesterday. The '3' Irish Open champion can expect the impressive Overton to give him a helluva match, even though he hasn't yet won on Tour.

10.17: Miguel Angel Jimenez v Bubba Watson.

The oldest swinger on the European side at age 46 and a shorter hitter than opponent Bubba Watson, but the cigar-smoking Spaniard won't be fazed. Jimenez already has a psychological edge after he and partner Peter Hanson defeated Bubba and Jeff Overton by two holes yesterday.

10.29 Francesco Molinari v Tiger Woods

Dream singles debut for Francesco, but he will feel so much better after holing the key putt to save a half against Cink and Kuchar. Tiger went to bed last night reflecting on the heaviest match play defeat of his career and knowing he has played some scrappy golf over the last few days.

10.41 Edoardo Molinari v Rickie Fowler

Another clash of rookies but Molinari has no reason to fear Fowler. The Italian forced his way into the team by winning at Gleneagles, finishing with three successive birdies. He's tough, but so is Fowler. The 21-year-old has played in two Walker Cups and won seven out of eight points.

10.53: Peter Hanson v Phil Mickelson

The rookie Swede against the man who has lost all this three matches so far. Phil also now has the unenviable record of the man with the most Ryder Cup losses for America (17 defeats). That said, if Mickelson gets his putting going, he can always be a threat.

11.05: Padraig Harrington v Zach Johnson

Harrington has taken some stick this week and played some erratic golf, but Monty is delighted he picked him. Padraig got a boost when he and Fisher gained two points for the team from three outings. Johnson has already lost to McIlroy and McDowell, so it's Harrington's turn to take Johnson's scalp.

11.17: Graeme McDowell v Hunter Mahan

Tail-end Charlie role for McDowell. Could he be the next Irish player to have the winning of the Ryder Cup in his hands? McDowell's confidence is high while Mahan has only lost once in seven matches since his Cup debut two years ago. It's helpful for McDowell that he and Rory inflicted that defeat yesterday.

Irish Independent