Ryder Cup 2014: Day 1 Four-ball Analysis and Predictions

Everything is now set in motion for the Ryder Cup to get under way at Gleneagles after captains Paul McGinley and Tom Watson announced their pairings for the first morning’s fourballs.

There were a few surprises, most notably the separation of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose for the Europeans while Watson also raised a few eyebrows by omitting more experienced players — Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson — in favor of his three rookies — Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

The captains did deliver a thrilling prospect for the fourth match though as they opted for their strongest pairings to anchor the morning’s play. Rory McIlroy and Sergio García taking on Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley is a four-ball that will surely make for ultimate golfing theatre.

Match 1: Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson vs Bubba Watson & Webb Simpson

Opening fourball; Stenson & Rose vs Watson & Simpson

Opening fourball: Stenson & Rose vs Watson & Simpson

A mouth-watering opening match will kick things off at 7:35 a.m. local time with four major champions. McGinley caused a minor shock at the opening ceremony when Rose’s name was not followed by Poulter. But in Stenson, Rose has a formidable partner and they look a good duo to lead Europe through the morning.  Stenson has failed to win either of his previous two fourball encounters at the K Club and Valhalla but comes in to this year as a much stronger player, after an all-conquering season in 2013.

Watson and Simpson were a pairing waiting in the wings and one of the worst kept secrets in the build-up to the event. They put in a strong showing at Medinah, punctuated by two 5 & 4 victories in the fourballs which shows exactly why captain Watson wants them out first in the same format. There has been a lot of talk that Simpson was drafted in as a pick solely to play with Bubba and their dazzling play at Medinah justifies Tom Watson’s insistence on making them a pairing once again.

Prediction: American win

Match 2: Thomas Bjorn & Martin Kaymer vs Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker

This is probably Europe’s weakest pairing in the opening session. Bjorn’s form of late has been indifferent and whether or not he can gel with Kaymer remains to be seen. Kaymer showed some solid form in the FedEx cup but they will have to be at their best to overthrow a highly-charged Rickie Fowler.

Fowler has been a mainstay on the leaderboards this season and made a statement of intent by emerging from the team’s private jet on Monday with U-S-A shaved into the side of his head. Fowler missed out on selection in 2012 and has said that he is driven by the prospect of facing off-course friend Rory McIlroy at some point during the week. For now, however, he will have his hands full with a German and a Dane before trying to take down the Northern Irishman.

Although Fowler failed to win either of his three matches at Celtic Manor in 2010, he is a vastly improved player now and is likely to win his team multiple points this week. Jimmy Walker has had minimal exposure to Scottish golf and even less to the Ryder Cup so it is difficult to gauge how he will fare.

Prediction: European win

Match 3: Stephen Gallacher & Ian Poulter vs Jordan Spieth & Patrick Reed

Match 3; Poulter & Gallacher vs Spieth & Reed

Match 3: Poulter & Gallacher vs Spieth & Reed

This looks like a European win all over. A smart move by McGinley putting Mr.Ryder Cup alongside the home favourite in a match that is likely to draw massive crowds. Poulter will love every second of this and will relish his chances against a double rookie pairing that Tom Watson picked so the guys “could wet their feet.” Well, they are likely to get a hefty splash from Poulter and Gallacher.

Spieth has proven himself to be a top player and nearly bagged his first major at the Masters earlier this year while Reed is known to be supremely confident in his abilities so they may cause an upset. When Spieth and Reed were called out together, it came as a surprise but after further consideration, putting all three rookies out in the morning makes sense to give them a taste of the action and atmosphere as early as possible.

With fourballs being an “easier” format, it’s good for the rookies to get out and hit as many shots as possible and give Watson the best indication of their form. However, it may just be too much for these two guys and Poulter’s Ryder Cup mastery is likely to shine through and deliver Europe a point.

Prediction: European win

Match 4: Rory McIlroy & Sergio García vs Phil Mickelson & Keegan Bradley 

Match 4: McIlroy & Garcia vs Mickelson & Bradley

Match 4: McIlroy & Garcia vs Mickelson & Bradley

This is blockbuster golf. The glittering prospect of pairing two of the greatest players in the world right now proved to good to resist for McGinley. Perhaps interesting to some that they were not the first pair out but their close friendship is well-documented and McGinley is hoping that they can feed off each other’s positive energy.

McGinley said in his post-ceremony press conference that McIlroy and Garcia were bonding off the course as well as playing a lot of golf together on it so it seemed obvious to pair them together.

However, they by no means have a free pass to a point as they come up against the USA’s strongest pairing. Bradley and Mickelson won all three times they played together at Medinah and are determined to lead their country’s bid for revenge. It is likely to be a very close match as Mickelson and McIlroy can become birdie-machines when they turn on the style but Bradley’s sensational putting display in 2012 suggests that he will not be forgotten about.

Prediction: Draw

Final Verdict

An engrossing session awaits viewers, that is for sure. With a blend of experienced players and hungry rookies, Friday morning is poised to produce some stunning golf. Eyebrows have been raised at McGinley for leaving out Lee Westwood- Europe’s most experienced player- likewise to Watson for opting not to send Jim Furyk out in the morning. However, that will all become irrelevant when putts start going in and the roars echo through fairways. It will surely be close, but I expect Europe to edge out the Americans going into the afternoon’s foresomes. Europe 2.5 USA 1.5

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About Matt Gault

Matt is a long-term These Football Times writer and co-author of A Tale of One City, Football's Fleeting Fraternity, The Academy Way and Masterminds. He supports Manchester United but also follows the fortunes of FK Qarabag in Azerbaijan. Based in Belfast, he is interested in the relationship between politics and football and rebellious footballers. Has been featured on The Guardian, FourFourTwo, WorldSoccer.com, BBC, Daily Mail and Huffington Post. He is also the Editor of SquareEyed.tv (http://www.squareeyed.tv/), covering the world of movies, TV and culture. Follow SquareEyed on Twitter @SquareEyed_tv and like us on Facebook! Follow Matt on Twitter @MattGault11
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