The opening-session pairings and matchups are out for the 12th Presidents Cup, which begins Thursday at Liberty National.
Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas will bat leadoff for the U.S. against Hideki Matsuyama and Charl Schwartzel.
Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar will play Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas in the second match, followed by U.S. Ryder Cup studs Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed against International Team rookies Si Woo Kim and Emiliano Grillo on what, on paper, looks like the most lopsided match of the session.
U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka will team with Daniel Berger against Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace in the fourth match, and Phil Mickelson and Kevin Kisner will play fellow Aussies Jason Day and Marc Leishman in the final match of the first day.
The opening session is foursomes, which is an alternate-shot format. That will be followed by five four-ball (best ball) matches on Friday, then four foursomes matches and four four-ball matches Saturday and 12 singles matches Sunday.
The winner of the Presidents Cup must accumulate at least 15 ½ of the possible 30 points. The U.S. has won the last six and nine of the 11 played, with one loss and one tie.
The pairing process for the Presidents Cup is done completely differently than the Ryder Cup, which is a blind process, with each captain handing in his pairings and matching them up as they go, one through four, for example.
The Presidents Cup pairing session was done live, with Steve Stricker and his assistant captains sitting on one side of a partition with a computer in front of them and Nick Price and his assistants on the other.
“It makes it a little more challenging,’’ Stricker said. “In the Ryder Cup, you’re putting out teams in an order that you want to put out, whether it’s based on strength up front or in the back. Here, you’re trying to figure out if the team that I’ve got can beat their team.
“We were pretty close in what we wanted to do. There were a few matchups that we were looking for that we got. We’re happy about that.’’
Asked which were the matchups he liked that he got, Stricker said with a smile, “Not telling.’’
Stricker, as the home captain, had first pick and chose to defer.
Price sent out Matsuyama and Schwartzel, and Stricker matched that with Fowler and Thomas. Stricker then sent in Johnson and Kuchar and Price countered with Scott, a veteran of seven Presidents Cups, and Vegas, playing in his first.
Then, after Price put Kim and Grillo out, Stricker went for the kill with Spieth and Reed, who were European destroyers in the Ryder Cup.
Stricker’s only all-rookie pairing was Koepka and Berger, but those players hardly seem like rookies with Koepka a major championship winner this year and Berger a tenacious competitor who’s been in the hunt at majors.
Stricker’s pairing of Mickelson, who’s played in all 11 Presidents Cups, and Kisner, who’s playing in his first, was all about personalities.
“They really jell well together,’’ Stricker said. “Kevin Kisner is a guy on our team that a lot of guys want to play with. He does everything very, very well. Phil is a guy that likes fiery players, and Kiz’ is one of those players. He talks a lot of smack when we’re out there having fun and playing. He’s a little bulldog, and Phil really gravitates towards that. They are very excited to go out with one another.’’
Price’s challenge with the opening session is how poorly the International side has done in recent times in foursome play, having lost six of the nine foursomes matches in 2015, 6 ½- 4 ½ in 2013 and 8-3 in 2011.
“We have been on the back foot for the longest time in the alternate-shot or foursomes, so I’m hoping that we’re going to change that [Thursday],’’ Price said. “The continuity aspect of having the same team members [on the U.S.] in the following year or the next Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup, whatever it is, is really important.
“I think that’s what we’ve got a little more this time, a little more continuity. We know Louis and Branden are terrific. Jason was really tired in Korea [in 2015, when he went 0-4-1]. He had come off a phenomenal year and he was just spent, basically. So he had a really tough time there. So I wouldn’t really look too hard for his record at that.
“Jason and Leish, for me, were a shoo-in. That was just an easy pick for all of us. You know, they are both very good friends, and I think we’ve got a great pairing in those two.’’
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