By Mitch Phillips
PARIS (Reuters) – Tiger Woods will partner Patrick Reed against Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood in the fourth and final fourballs match when the Ryder Cup gets underway on Friday, a grouping sure to be the number one draw for fans at Le Golf National.
Woods, back in the competition after not playing in the last two editions, is in hot form and it looks a formidable partnership with this year’s Masters champion Reed.
The first match of the day sees Justin Rose and Spanish rookie Jon Rahm taking on Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau.
Rory McIlroy and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen face world number one Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, while English duo Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton take on Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
The pairings were announced at Thursday’s opening ceremony in bright, late afternoon sunshine at the course just outside Paris as France proudly hosts the event for the first time.
With only three Frenchman ever having played in the event, organisers opted for former international footballer David Ginola to act as Master of Ceremonies.
Europe captain Thomas Bjorn described the role as the proudest moment of his long golf career, battling to be heard in the face of relentless cheering and chanting from the thousands of fans who had been on the course during Thursday’s final practice and who gathered together for the ceremony.
“This great continent can be divided at times but here we stand as one,” said the Dane.
United States captain Jim Furyk spoke of his country’s special bond with France. “For more than 200 years we have been friends and allies and this week as a token of our special bond our players will be playing with bags emblazoned with an image of the Statue of Liberty,” he said.
“Inside in the ropes we compete together, outside we stand together, as we always have and always will.”
Two years ago at Hazeltine the United States swept to a 4-0 lead in the opening morning’s foursomes – where players play alternate shots with the same ball – and though Europe fought back to close the gap, the home side eventually ran out convincing 17-11 winners.
This time Europe have opted to start the day with the fourball format where each man plays his own ball and the lowest scoring player on each side counts in the matchplay competition.
Over 7,000 fans will ring the first tee when play gets underway at 08.10 local time on Friday, creating a noise and atmosphere unlike anything seen in any other golf event.
The United States have not won on European soil since 1993 – the year three of the current American team were born.
Both sets of players, captains and assistants wore yellow ribbons on their suits as a tribute to 22-year-old Spanish amateur golfer Celia Barquin Arozamena, who was found stabbed to death on a course in the United States last week.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis)