Thursday, September 21, 2006

On Your Mark, Get Set...

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman got another thing right.
He kept the Tiger Woods-Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson-Chris DiMarco pairings together for the first set of matches in the Ryder Cup. That doesn't mean they're going to win but it means Lehman didn't ignore the chemistry lessons learned last fall at the Presidents Cup.
Play to your strengths. That's what both sides are doing.
When Ian Woosnam stuck Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie out first, he figured they'd line up against Woods and Furyk and he was right. He's hoping they can give the Europeans the same dynamite they provided two years ago when they beat Woods and Mickelson in the first match on the first day, setting the tone for the weekend.
What's different this time is Woods is at the top of his game. Two years ago, he was still working through his swing change with Hank Haney and was paired with Mickelson, who had just changed equipment companies and seemed like a man who didn't want to be there.
Woods is comfortable with Furyk, who cracks jokes under his breath at times, amusing Woods.
For both sides, a victory in the first match would be a huge boost, though it's only the first step in a long march.
The Americans have a strategy though Lehman wouldn't reveal it Thursday. It likely centers on getting off to a solid start, rather than playing themselves into a hole as they've typically done early.
In pairing Brett Wetterich with David Toms, Lehman opted to go for power on a long, wet course and temper it with Toms' calming influence. Most expected Toms to play with Chad Campbell but Lehman likes what Wetterich brings and had the pairing in mind after the team visited Ireland last month.
Woosnam chose to pair Jose Maria Olazabal with Sergio Garcia, putting the Spaniards together in hopes of recapturing some of the Ryder Cup magic Olazabal had with Seve Ballesteros. He may be on to something.
Match play golf is a different animal. You can play very well and lose or you can scrape it around and still scrape out a win. Two years ago, Woods and Mickelson shot a better-ball 31 on the first nine against Montgomerie and Harrington and were 1-down at the turn.
That's the way it goes.
There is encouraging news on the weather front here. The rain is expected to end overnight and the forecast for the weekend is good. Temperatures in the upper 60s, 15 to 20 mile per hour winds and only a slight chance of rain.
They're likely to play lift, clean and cheat because it's so muddy but it may be the only fair way to play given how muddy the course is.
The best news is it's finally time to play.