GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) — Phil Mickelson poked fun at Rory McIlroy. Now they get to face off in the Ryder Cup.
Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, undefeated as a team two years ago at Medinah, face the European powerhouse of McIlroy and Sergio Garcia in the opening session of fourballs on Friday at Gleneagles.
“We’re looking to hand them their first defeat tomorrow morning,” McIlroy said.
They will be the anchor match of what should be a fascinating opening session.
U.S. captain Tom Watson made sure all three of his rookies were on the course at Gleneagles right away, and two of them are partners — 21-year-old Jordan Spieth and 24-year-old Patrick Reed, the youngest pairing in Ryder Cup history.
Europe captain Paul McGinley put together four pairings who have never played together in a Ryder Cup. That includes McIlroy and Garcia, who he said have become fast friends over the summer and asked to play together.
“The fun is only starting now,” McGinley said.
Mickelson took a playful jab at McIlroy on Wednesday when he said the best part of American unity is the players don’t “litigate against each other.” McIlroy has a court battle against his former management company, and the lawsuit involves Graeme McDowell.
McIlroy told Golf Channel on Thursday that he “got a couple of jabs back” at the gala dinner on Wednesday.
“I know Phil well and we had a couple of laughs about it,” McIlroy said.
Mickelson and Bradley went 2-1-1 as partners in the Presidents Cup last year, so they are not unbeatable. And while they faced some of Europe’s strongest tandems at Medinah — including handing Garcia and Luke Donald their first loss in foursomes — this might be the toughest yet.
“It’s going to be a difficult match against what we perceive as the strongest team that Europe has,” Mickelson said.
Watson went with his strength at the top. He chose Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson in the opening match against Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Watson and Simpson won both fourballs matches at Medinah, beating both opponents on the 14th hole.
Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker will play the second match against Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn, the 43-year-old Dane who is playing in the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2002.
Spieth and Reed will face Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher in what might be the most compelling match of the morning.
“I told them today, ‘I’m going to throw you in the ocean without a life preserver. You’re on your own. You get out there and you get it done,'” Watson said.
Poulter is the most dynamic Ryder Cup player for Europe, a winner of seven straight matches and coming off a 4-0 record at Medinah. His rookie partner makes the team even more daunting. Gallacher, the only Scottish player at Gleneagles, lives about 35 miles (55 kilometers) away. He received the loudest cheer during the opening ceremony.
“Absolutely buzzing,” Poulter said. “Playing with Stevie G, home course, in Scotland, first Ryder Cup. It’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait to smash it down the middle.”
Spieth and Reed sounded up for the challenge.
“I don’t think you could have picked out two people that we want to play against more,” Spieth said. “I feel like our job is to win a point. We can do that with those two guys. We’re going to really lower their team morale, I feel like.”
McGinley sat out two of his rookies — Victor Dubuisson of France and Jamie Donaldson of Wales. Also sitting out are Lee Westwood, who has been in every Ryder Cup since 1997, and McDowell.
Watson is sitting out Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar, who are Nos. 4 and 9 in the world. Furyk, however, is 1W-8L-1D in fourballs, with his only victory in 2006 with Tiger Woods as his partner. Also sitting are Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson, both extremely accurate and perhaps better suited for foursomes in the afternoon.
Both captains said their plan was for all 12 players to be on the course by the end of Friday.
“People are going to say there is real strength at the top, real strength at the bottom,” McGinley said. “It’s really strength all over. I really, really rate this American team. We’re going to have to be on if we’re going to beat them.”
The Americans have not trailed after the opening session since 2006, though Bubba Watson was not sure a lead was critical — not after what happened at Medinah two years ago when Europe staged the greatest comeback away from home.
“We saw in 2012 that obviously a hot start is not the key,” the Masters champ said. “It’s about finishing.”
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