CHICAGO, Illinois: The long guessing game was about to end at the Ryder Cup in Chicago on Thursday with captains Davis Love and Jose Maria Olazabal set to reveal their picks for the next day’s opening foursomes.
The two skippers have been mulling their options for the last two years, since Europe regained the trophy by defeating the United States 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 at Celtic Manor, Wales.
On the face of it, Europe’s Olazabal has the more straightforward task with a settled team at his disposal that has just the one rookie player in Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts.
World No.1 Rory McIlroy is virtually certain to be playing alongside fellow Ulsterman and close friend Graeme McDowell, with whom he made a winning Ryder Cup debut two years ago.
Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia are already known as a fearsome foursome having chalked up a perfect win record in four outings, while English pair Ian Poulter and Justin Rose have already made it clear they want to resume the partnership they first formed at Valhalla, Kentucky four years ago.
That just leaves who to send out alongside the team’s most experienced campaigner Lee Westwood, with the likeliest choice being Scotland’s Paul Lawrie, back in the mix after a 13-year absence, or the rookie Colsaerts.
Olazabal mixed things up on the back nine at the Medinah Country Club for Thursday’s closing practice with McIlroy going out with Rose, Garcia and Germany’s Martin Kaymer.
McDowell went out with Poulter, Donald and Francesco Molinari of Italy, while the first group was Westwood, Lawrie, Swede Peter Hanson and Colsaerts.
Olazabal, a veteran of seven Ryder Cups between 1987 and 2006 and best-known as the partner of the legendary Seve Ballesteros, sounded on Wednesday as though he had done most of his work for the opening salvo of matches.
“I do have a pretty good idea of what I want on Friday morning,” he said, adding that he expected the atmosphere with 40,000 mainly American fans expected at the course to be “loud and amazing.”
His US counterpart Davis Love sounded less sure of who to send out saying on Wednesday that he had not gone to bed until 2:30 a.m. pouring over his options.
“I have a feeling for some pairings, but no, I haven’t really put the pencil to that yet,” he added.
All the signs were that Tiger Woods, seeking just his second win in the Ryder Cup in his seventh appearance, would resume the partnership he struck up in Wales with quiet man Steve Stricker.
Phil Mickelson, setting a US Ryder Cup record of nine caps in Chicago, has hinted that he will be playing with Keegan Bradley, the US PGA Champion, who is one of four rookies in the US team.
US Open champion Webb Simpson and Masters Champion Bubba Watson meanwhile were being touted as a pairing, with the unpredictable Watson expected to be a lightning rod for the home fans.
“What you see in his golf videos and all the other funny stuff he does, that’s him on the golf course. He jokes around. He still is a competitor. You can’t win the Masters and not be a very tough competitor,” said Simpson.
“I think you put him and me together where I am a little more serious, he kind of relaxes me and I kind of help him focus on golf and draw him back to what we need to be looking at.
“He’s definitely a clown and everybody laughs at him, and he’s a good guy to have on the team.”
The foursomes pairings will be announced at the opening ceremony later Thursday, with the afternoon fourballs unveiled the following day around midday after they are completed.