- 21 Sep 06, 04:31 PM
K Club – Ryder Cup captains Ian Woosnam and Tom Lehman have laid their opening cards on the table. And what hands.
The debate has less than 24 hours to run before we find out what beats what.
Both skippers have gone for arguably their trump cards first up.
Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk against Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie is a mouth-watering clash to kick off the 36th Ryder Cup at the K Club.
The match-up is a classic-in-waiting on many levels.
Woods is the best player of his generation trying to reverse a lacklustre Ryder Cup record; Furyk, the world number three, is the man hand-picked to help him achieve that and banish the memory of Woods’ ill-fated 2004 pairing with Phil Mickelson. The pair lost to Montgomerie and Harrington in the first match as Europe went on to post a record victory.
Harrington is the local hero whose face is plastered all over buses and hoardings in his native Dublin; and Montgomerie, playing in his eighth Ryder Cup, is the man who holed the winning putt in 2004 and Europe’s talisman and on-course captain.
Neither team can win ultimate victory after the first match but the result will set the tone and deliver an early statement of overall intent.
The other matches in the fourballs are Stewart Cink and JJ Henry versus Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson; David Toms and Brett Wetterich against Spanish duo Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal; and Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco playing Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.
Fire meets fire in that last one as well.
But there are some big names to miss out on the first round, notably perhaps Luke Donald, though Woosnam and Lehman both stressed that all 12 players will appear at least once before the singles.
"I told my guys that this is a team game and whether you’re sitting out or you’re playing, you're adding significantly to the success of the team," said Lehman.
Woosnam added: "I’ve got nine players in the top 25 in the world and Stenson, Donald and Howell are right up there, and it is difficult to tell them they are not playing. Everybody is playing well but somebody has to be dropped. I could put anybody with anybody and every pairing would look fantastic."
The skippers both performed admirably at the opening ceremony, speaking more or less fluently and saying all the right things.
And if Lehman has looked assured from the start, Woosnam has certainly grown into the role after a shaky beginning.
But both men know that the initial PR softening-up phase is over and the main thrust of Operation K Club is about to begin.
From now on, their golf nous will be centre stage, and they will be judged on how shrewdly they shuffle their deck.
And then, it's up to their players to perform.
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