Mickelson, Johnson Play 1st for U.S. Ryder Cup Team, Not Woods

U.S. captain Corey Pavin turned to Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson instead of Tiger Woods to open his team’s defense of golf’s Ryder Cup.

Mickelson and Johnson will meet England’s Lee Westwood and Germany’s Martin Kaymer as the 38th edition of golf’s top international team competition begins tomorrow at Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales. Woods will play the third match with Steve Stricker against Englishmen Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.

“Phil and Dustin are playing great golf right now and they love to play golf together,” Pavin said at a news conference after announcing the opening fourball pairings.

The U.S. and European teams will play fourballs, in which each golfer plays his own ball with the lowest score winning the hole, tomorrow morning. They’ll then meet in foursomes, or alternating shots with the same ball, in the afternoon. Play begins at 7:45 a.m. U.K. time.

Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar will meet Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy in the morning’s second match, with Ryder Cup rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton playing England’s Luke Donald and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington in the final game.

“Matt Kuchar is playing great this year and Stewart is a major winner,” McDowell told reporters. “Myself and Rory have a big game on our hands tomorrow but we will be trying our best to get that point for Europe as soon as possible.”

‘Hidden’ Tiger

The pairing of Woods and Stricker wasn’t surprising after they won all four of their matches in last year’s Presidents Cup, when the U.S. plays an international team, but their placing is. Woods, who was winless in 11 events this season, has traditionally been in the opening Ryder Cup group for the U.S.

“I was expecting Tiger to go first or fourth,” Europe captain Colin Montgomerie said in a press conference. “I think Tiger being hidden is a different move.”

Pavin didn’t go into much detail behind his thinking and said that Woods was fine with it.

“He’s been saying the same thing since I asked him if he wanted to play on the team as a (captain’s) pick,” Pavin said. “He just said, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.’”

Poulter, who led Europe with four points when it lost to the U.S. two years ago, said he’s looking forward to the matchup.

“Tiger and Stricker, if there was a match you are going to want to play it is their best two players,” he said. “It’s going to be a hell of a match. I cannot wait.”

Pavin left Jim Furyk, who won $11 million from this month’s U.S. PGA Tour Championship and the season-long FedEx Cup, and Hunter Mahan, who went 5-0 in 2008, out of the morning matches.

Furyk’s Success

“He was counting his money and he’s been very tired,” Pavin laughed when asked about Furyk’s omission. “You’ll see him out in the afternoon.”

There will be another round of fourballs and foursomes in two days time before the final 12 singles matches on Oct. 3. The U.S. needs 14 of the possible 28 points to retain the Cup, while Europe needs 14 ½ for victory.

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