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Woods-Stricker anchor US Ryder Cup foursomes

MEDINAH, Ill. — US captain Davis Love isn’t wasting any time giving his Ryder Cup rookies some experience, sending three of his four out in Friday morning’s alternate-shot format, then closing with veterans Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in the foursomes anchor match.

Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk will face Graeme McDowell and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, a stout pair from Northern Ireland, in the opening match. They’ll be followed by Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson against a team that is 4-0 as Ryder Cup partners in Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia.

Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson get the call in the third match, facing Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari. Woods and Stricker then meet the British duo of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.

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Lots of firepower from both sides to kick off the 39th Ryder Cup, but Love wasn’t about to predict how anything might play out.

“But I can tell you this: I love my team and I love the pairings, and I love the plan we’ve got going, and I’m excited to watch them go play,” Love said. “Brandt was a good one to lead off. Obviously, Phil and Keegan are a little bit excited to be playing, too, and then we’ve got some pretty cool customers at the end that can handle whatever happens in the last two matches.

Snedeker, Bradley, and Dufner will be playing their first Ryder Cup matches; all eight of Jose Maria Olazabal’s choices on Friday morning have Ryder Cup experience.

“I wanted to have my strongest foursomes pairings for the first session. That’s the logic,” Olazabal said. “I know that the matches are going to be tough. The US team is playing great. We are not hiding anything. We are just going out and try to win points. Period, that’s it. That’s the only way I see we might have a chance of winning this event.”

The four US players who won’t be playing in the morning include this year’s winners of the Masters (Bubba Watson), US Open (Webb Simpson), and Players Championship (Matt Kuchar), plus Dustin Johnson. Love hinted strongly that they’d play Friday afternoon, when the format switches to four-balls (better-ball). Europe is sitting Nicolas Colsaerts, Peter Hanson, Paul Lawrie, and Martin Kaymer on Friday morning.

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There’s been a strong desire by many to see Woods face McIlroy in Sunday’s singles play at the 39th Ryder Cup, but the two men who could guarantee that it happens aren’t making any promises.

The two popular players have developed a nice little rivalry based on their success this year, heightened recently because they were paired together multiple times during the FedEx Cup playoffs, when McIlroy won twice, including the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston.

But Ryder Cup pairings are done blindly: Captains simply set the order in which they’ll send their players out, without knowing what order the other captain will use. Might Love and Olazabal quietly agree on the position they’ll place Woods and McIlroy, so the golf world can enjoy a match that everyone, especially NBC, is hoping to see? The ratings boost – Sunday’s Ryder Cup telecast will compete against NFL games, remember – would be significant.

“I’m sure it’s not in the captain’s agreement that we don’t do that, but I’m sure it’s against the spirit of it,” Love said. “It would be neat to sit up here and match them up. It would be good theater to match groups, and it would be fun.

“But since we can’t do that, I definitely don’t want to be the first one to go cross over into their room and start rigging pairings, so I would say no.”

Olazabal shared similar thoughts.

“I know that all of you are very eager to see that match played, but we will have to wait and see what happens,” he said. “We are guessing here, and my guess is as good as yours. And the only thing I can say is that I know you’re eager to see that match, but I think the Ryder Cup is more important than that single match.”

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Love has embraced a celebrity element to this week’s festivities, especially from those sports and entertainment stars who have a passion for golf. Michael Jordan was an assistant captain for Fred Couples at the 2009 Presidents Cup, and has known Love since the two were at the University of North Carolina together. Love, in fact, introduced Jordan to golf. Being a Chicago icon, Jordan will have a presence with the US team this week. If he wants one, that is.

“Since ’95, he’s been to every Ryder Cup. He just loves it,” Love said. “I asked him what he wanted to do this week, did he want to come in and hang out. He’s entertaining, watching, and we’re going to have him in the team room if he wants to come in, or we’re going to have him hang out in the locker room. He’s just a good motivation for a lot of these guys that don’t know him.”

Another Chicago celebrity with an affinity for golf – actor Bill Murray – has also spent some time with the US team this week, and played in a pro-am on Tuesday that included Justin Timberlake (who will host a PGA Tour event in Las Vegas next month), George Lopez, and Michael Phelps. Love said Toby Keith is also expected to attend this weekend.

“We have a lot of people that have a lot of interest in the Ryder Cup,” Love said, “and that’s pretty cool.”

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In their opening ceremony speeches, both captains used the occasion to ask the spectators to show respect this weekend, reminding everyone that the competition is based on good sportsmanship between friends ... Timberlake served as emcee for Wednesday night’s Ryder Cup gala, a red-carpet tradition that is the featured pre-tournament event. The musical act was the band Chicago … For the second straight day, Europe played only nine holes (Nos. 10-18) for its practice round … Unlike the rain and fog that delayed play in Wales two years ago, the weather forecast for Medinah this weekend looks perfect for golf: Highs of 69 (Friday), 73 (Saturday), and 67 (Sunday), with no chance of rain.

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