Mike Matheny might have no problem making the decisions. The Cardinals skipper often has rested his veteran stars this season. But U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III faced a tough call after morning matches concluded at Medinah Country Club.
The biggest quandary for Love might have concerned Tiger Woods -- to sit or not to sit, that was the question. Love chose the latter.
Woods, a 14-time major championship winner, has played in six previous Ryder Cups and competed in every match of each. Now the No. 2 player in the world, he seems to be struggling to make the club-head transition from ping-pong to golf.
A star in early week table tennis matches while paired with Phil Mickelson, Woods floundered on the lawns of Medinah while paired with Steve Stricker during morning foursomes. Only some equally erratic play by Europeans Ian Poulter and Justin Rose kept the Americans viable before they finally ceded the match, 2-and-1.
That result notwithstanding, Love elected to send Woods-Stricker out for the afternoon session of four-ball (alternate shot). The American duo will face off with Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts as 12:50 p.m.
With four players sitting out the morning session, Love could have sat either Woods, or Stricker, or both for the afternoon's session of four-ball. Instead, he put Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk on the bench, as well as Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. The latter combined to win their morning match.
The other afternoon four-ball sessions feature Americans Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson against Euros Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson at 12:05; Americans Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley against Euros Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell at 12:20; Americans Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar against Euros Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer at 12:35; Woods and Stricker against Euros Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts at 12:50.
The most volatile contest of the morning was the leadoff match. Europe's Irish pair of McIlroy and McDowell got off to a spectacular start against Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker. The No. 1 player in the world, McIlroy holed a fabulous bunker shot on the fourth green and the Europeans birdied six of the first 10 holes. After a bogey by the Americans at No. 12, the Irish "M&Ms" were 3-up.
But as quickly as Irish eyes smiled they began squinting. Bogeys at Nos. 13, 15 and 16 opened the door and Furyk-Snedeker barged in, stringing birdies at 14, 15 and 16 to get back to all-square. Furyk's phenomenal fairway wood at No. 16 was reminiscent of Sergio Garcia's galloping shot at the 1999 PGA Championship.
But in the end, McDowell made a six-foot putt on 18 to par the hole and win the match for the Europeans.
"That match, to me, just personifies the Ryder Cup," said McDowell, whose team see-sawed between seven birdies and five bogeys. "Myself and Rory played some great golf to go up 3-up, and then you're playing against two very gutsy players who clawed their way back to all-square coming down to the last two holes."
On the American side, the play of Mickelson-Bradley was a highlight. A rookie in Ryder Cup action, Bradley lit up the galleries with emotional outbursts and made several key shots against the previously undefeated pair of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia.
The Euro tandem came into the match with a 4-0 record as a duet, but Bradley administered last rites with a 22-foot birdie putt on No. 15. Mickelson-Bradley walked off with a convincing 4-and-3 victory, finishing 4-under for the 15 holes. For their part, both Donald and Garcia will sit out the afternoon action.
Dufner and Johnson proved to be a solid pair for U.S., as well. That tandem defeated the European team of Westwood and Francesco Molinari 3-and-2. But both Dufner and Johnson will be on the bench in the afternoon.
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