by Ronan MacNamara
Padraig Harrington by Golffile
Pádraig Harrington admitted he had twelve options for the opening foursomes matches as he explained the reasoning behind his Friday morning pairings.
In the opening match it’s an all-Spanish affair as World number one Jon Rahm is joined by Ryder Cup record points scorer Sergio Garcia and they will face the star pairing of Steve Stricker’s US team in Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth who won three of their four matches together in Paris.
Spieth also has a fabulous record in foursomes winning seven, losing one and halving two in his Ryder Cup career, so Harrington was not surprised to see the two strongest pairings drawn together in the opening match of the contest, but stressed his team have been solely focused on themselves this week.
“You’ve got to focus on your own team, with the positioning of the matches we were pretty obvious I assume with the two Spanish boys out in front, you can’t guess what they’re doing you can only look after the things you can control.
“Everybody could have predicted the first match out they’re putting their best out we’re putting our best out.
“I think we expected a few groups there DJ and Collin yes, Brooks and Berger we had an idea but we weren’t that focused on them even though we would have known their number one pairing.
“At the end of the day there’s four points up for play I think JT and Jordan have a very successful record and they want to continue that and I think they’re a big part of the US team coming out of the Presidents Cup this is something they have used to build some partnerships.”
In the second match out it’s a mixture of experience and youth as Paul Casey teams up with Victor Hovland who will become Norway’s maiden Ryder Cup player.
The pair have been handed a tough assignment against a very strong iron duo in Dustin Johnson and Open Champion, Collin Morikawa.
Harrington has been impressed with Hovland’s attitude and could have put anybody alongside the Norwegian with a plethora of options at his disposal.
“Everybody wanted to play with Victor he’s a great attitude, a great player as well and Paul is one of the top players in the world and a great match player. It just fell nicely into place, we had a lot of options, I have twelve players who could play foursomes. There’s nobody in my team who couldn’t go out in foursomes.
“It was tough to let people rest, everybody should get a game on day one, you’ve got to get them out and play.”
Europe have played devil may care with their practice pairings over the last three days and it has lead to a surprising combination in the third foursomes tie, where Lee Westwood will make his record-equalling eleventh Ryder Cup appearance and record 19th foursomes match alongside Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick who is yet to win a point for Europe.
The English duo will face four-time major champion Brooks Koepka and rookie Daniel Berger, but Harrington has been impressed with how his pair have performed in practice and described Fitzpatrick as an underrated cog in the machine.
“Looked great in practice, suited to the conditions and golf course, Lee is a stalwart and Matt is the most underestimated player in the game.”
Another titanic battle is in store in the anchor foursomes match of the morning as Rory McIlroy continues his record of having played every session since his debut in 2010 when he lines out alongside Ian Poulter who only has two losses in foursomes match-play.
They will face the formidable pair of Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay who have been blooded in the President’s Cup going 2-2 in Melbourne in 2019.
The pair may be rookies by name but certainly are not by nature with Schauffele the Olympic Champion and Cantlay the reigning FedEx Cup champion and Player of the Year.
Harrington says McIlroy and Poulter have been gelling nicely and their record together proves the Englishman is the perfect partner for McIlroy who should rise to the occasion of being in a marquee match, like he did with Poulter and Garcia in 2018.
“They’re just good together and set up very nicely on the golf course as well. Ian really helps build that atmosphere and rises to the occasion, he’s been playing great and we saw in Paris he’s an ideal partner for Rory.”