GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) — Phil Mickelson poked fun at Rory McIlroy. Now they get to face off in the Ryder Cup.
Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, undefeated as a team two years ago at Medinah, face the European powerhouse of McIlroy and Sergio Garcia in the opening session of fourballs on Friday at Gleneagles.
They will be the anchor match of what should be a fascinating opening session.
Mickelson took a playful jab at McIlroy on Wednesday when he said the best part of American unity is the players don’t “litigate against each other.” McIlroy has a court battle against his former management company, and the lawsuit involves Graeme McDowell.
McIlroy told Golf Channel on Thursday that he “got a couple of jabs back” at the gala dinner Wednesday.
“I know Phil well and we had a couple of laughs about it,” McIlroy said.
Given the better-ball format, U.S. captain Tom Watson went with his strength at the top. He sends off Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson in the opening match against Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Watson and Simpson won both fourballs matches at Medinah without having to play the final four holes.
Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker will play the second match against Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn, the 43-year-old Dane who is playing in the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2002.
Watson made sure all three of his rookies play in the opening session, and two of them will be partners – Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. They will face Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher in what might be the most compelling match of the morning. Poulter is the only one in the group with Ryder Cup experience.
“To give the rookies a chance to play, to see what they’ve got, that’s what I did,” Watson said.
Poulter is Europe’s most dynamic player in the Ryder Cup, a winner of seven straight matches and a 4-0 record at Medinah. Europe captain Paul McGinley put another popular figure with Poulter – Gallacher, who lives about 35 miles (55 kilometers) away from Gleneagles and is the only player from Scotland on Europe’s side.
Watson said he told his rookies, “I’m going to throw you in the ocean without a life preserver.”
McGinley sat out two of his rookies – Victor Dubuisson of France and Jamie Donaldson of Wales. Also sitting out are Lee Westwood, who has been in every Ryder Cup since 1997, and McDowell.
Watson is sitting out Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar, who are Nos. 4 and 9 in the world. Furyk, however, is 1W-8L-1D in fourballs, with his only victory in 2006 with Tiger Woods as his partner. Also sitting are Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson, both extremely accurate and perhaps better suited for foursomes in the afternoon.
“People are going to say there is real strength at the top, real strength at the bottom,” McGinley said. “It’s really strength all over. I really, really rate this American team. We’re going to have to be on if we’re going to beat them.”
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