GLENEAGLES: The guessing game gets going in earnest at the Ryder Cup on Tuesday as players set out in groups for their first practice rounds at Gleneagles.
Who is playing with whom takes on added significance as an insight into the thought processes drifting through the minds of the two skippers — Paul McGinley for Europe and Tom Watson for the United States.
They have three days to nail down which four pairings will contest the opening fourballs on Friday morning and which four pairings will contest the foursomes in the afternoon.
Form, fitness and familiarity will all be taken into account and the elusive matter of personal chemistry will also be assessed.
Already, several of the players have records in the competition and captains are often reluctant to abandon tried and trusted pairings.
For Europe, McGinley has Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood with a record together of four wins, two halves and just one loss and the all-English pairing of Justin Rose and Ian Poulter with four wins and one loss.
And then there is the potent Northern Irish matchup of world number one Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who are both at pains to say they are back on the best of terms despite some professional strains in their relationship over the last year.
For the Americans, Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson won three out of three at Medinah two years ago whilst Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson are known to enjoy playing together.
But with each side fielding three first-timers, there is also the need to make sure that there is a proper mix of inexperience and old hands.
Asked at their opening joint press conference on Monday, McGinley and Watson both said that after months of reflection they both, at least, had a good idea of which eight players would set the ball rolling on Friday morning.
After that the picture was less clear and dependent on circumstances.
“Well, in my case, there were some pretty solid pairings we’ve already thought about. Again, they evolve. They evolve throughout the match, depending on how well you do or how poorly you do, and you make changes based on the best information that you have,” Watson said.
“Right now, we can’t say what they are going to be on Saturday or Sunday. We have a pretty good idea what they are going to be on Friday.”
McGinley said his position was in keeping with Watson.
“I’ve got a pretty good idea as to where we’re going to go on Friday, and at this stage now, we are into the final tailoring of preparation for the matches in terms of practise rounds and a little bit more communication with the players, getting feedback, where they are actually at now,” he said.
“Situations like — to give you a horsey example — horses, when they travel to Cheltenham, hoping they have arrived, how did they travel, are they okay, are they back on it, are they back in there, have they got the pace of the ground again.
“And that’s kind of what you’re looking at with the players the next few days in practise, just making sure everybody is ticking over.
“That’s probably just what we are checking out over the next few days.”
The rival skippers also both agreed that whilst it was ultimately down to the 12 players they have at their disposal to get the job done, their own decisions on who partners who could make a big difference.
“I’ve some experience of sitting there as a vice captain on two occasions, and I’ve seen the decisions that have been made on both occasions where we’ve been fortunate enough to win, and we won by a point on each occasion,” McGinley said.
“I’ve certainly of the view that the captain’s decisions in both instances were very important and were pertinent to us winning both of those.” AFP