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Strengths and surprises in opening matches at Ryder Cup

Tommy Fleetwood Rory McIlroy Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy - Getty Images

When the matches for the first round of play at the Ryder Cup were announced on Thursday, there was perhaps more discussion about who won’t be playing on Friday morning. Eyebrows were raised and decisions were questioned, as they always are at this event.

First off, here are the opening matches for the first session, which is Foursomes or, as some know it, alternate shot.

Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton, affectionately known as the Swear Bears for their use of four-letter words on the course, take on Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns.

“We've played quite a bit of golf together,” stated Rahm, “and we approach the game quite the same. Our feelings on the golf course are very much the same, so I think we're really mixing really well together.”

“Scottie and I have played a lot of golf together,” said Burns, “and we're excited to team up and try to go out there and get the first point for our team.”

Burns and Scheffler are great friends off the course but their partnership in Foursomes hasn’t been great. They lost twice in the format at last year’s Presidents Cup.

Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg, who three months ago was still an amateur, meet up with Max Homa and Open champion Brian Harman.

Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka are up against Rickie Fowler and Colin Morikawa the third match of the morning.

And in the heavyweight battle of the opening session, Rory McIlroy, and Tommy Fleetwood, dubbed Fleetwood Mac, will face off against regular partners Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

“I feel like this is as excited and as ready a group as I've been a part of,” said McIlroy of his side. “We're all really relaxed, and we know the task at hand.”

“It’s business as usual,” added Schauffele of the marquee match. “They're both great players. Pat and I know them very well. It will be a battle, no doubt.”

The opening lineup means some notables will remain on the bench.

The biggest two names missing from the lineup are on the American side. The tandem of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are on the bench, a surprise to many considering their record together. At last year’s Presidents Cup, the duo went 4-0 playing together.

"The gist of it is we have 12 and I can't play all 12 each session, so at some point somebody has to sit," said U.S. captain Zach Johnson in explaining his decision.

"It's a golf course which demands a lot out of you physically. I think it's an ideal situation where you don't necessarily play everyone all five sessions.”

It could also come down to the style of play the two have at the moment. Spieth is not good at hitting fairways and Thomas has been ice-cold with the putter for most of the last season. That’s not a good combination for Foursomes, especially on a course that has five-inch deep rough.

They are joined on the sidelines by U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark and Brooks Koepka, the PGA Championship winner. Koepka is 2-2 in his past Foursomes play at the Ryder Cup but has been somewhat lacklustre in his recent play on the LIV Golf Tour.

On the other side of the aisle, the bench riders weren’t quite as surprising. Justin Rose, Nikolai Hojgaard, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Robert MacIntyre will all sit out the morning session.

“I think we have four amazing pairings and I’m excited to see how they do,” said European captain Luke Donald, who said statistics, as well as personalities, played a big part in pairing up his players.

Donald also revealed that the four players sitting out the morning session will play in the afternoon Fourballs. Johnson wouldn’t say what his lineup would be for Friday’s second session.