2018 Ryder Cup: The perfect player pairings for Paris
Now that the Ryder Cup teams are set, it’s time for captains Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn to finalize who will pair with whom?
There’s a lot that goes into finding the perfect pairings in these team events. Captains must consider playing styles, personalities and a variety of other factors. And while everyone would be interested to see a Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson pairing, that’s probably not the most effective option for the U.S.
Now, we understand that both Ryder Cup teams have plenty of resources to help them formulate the perfect combinations. But just in case the captains are looking for some extra advice, here’s our recommendations on which players should pair up in Paris, and why.
Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed: This is probably the easiest decision that Furyk has to make. This duo is 4-1-2 in the past two Ryder Cups, so even though Spieth might want to switch things up and partner with, say, Justin Thomas or Rickie Fowler, it’s best if he keeps his partnership with Reed. They are just too good together.
Tiger Woods-Bryson DeChambeau: While everyone on the U.S. team would love to pair with Woods, it seems as if DeChambeau, a three-time winner this season, will get the honor. The two have developed some chemistry this year through practice rounds and such. If there is anyone on the team as competitive as Woods, it’s DeChambeau, who had an excellent match-play record as an amateur, winning the 2015 U.S. Amateur and playing well for his country at the Walker Cup, Palmer Cup and World Amateur Team Championship.
Dustin Johnson-Brooks Koepka: The two gym buddies didn’t pair up until the final team session at Hazeltine. They lost to Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters in four-ball, 3 and 1, but showed some promise as a pairing. Johnson hasn’t played particularly well in Ryder Cups. Maybe competing alongside Koepka will spark something.
Phil Mickelson-Tony Finau: This will be Mickelson’s 12th straight Ryder Cup and at 48 years old, he doesn’t appear to have many more left as a player. He’s never won overseas, so he’ll be as motivated as ever to finally check that box off. Pairing him with the young and powerful Finau makes a lot of sense. The two played together at the Northern Trust a few weeks ago and Mickelson raved about Finau’s potential. Mickelson is also coming off a strong performance two years ago at Hazeltine, where he went 2-1-1.
Rickie Fowler-Justin Thomas: This is Thomas’ first Ryder Cup, but he isn’t the typical rookie, ranked fourth in the world and the defending PGA Tour Player of the Year. It’s no secret that he and Fowler are close, and their chemistry should produce results, especially in foursomes. They are similar players, possessing all-around games and gaining the most shots with their irons and putter.
Bubba Watson-Webb Simpson: This pairing worked very well in 2012 at Medinah, where the two went 2-1. They lost their opening session in 2014 and Simpson didn’t play again until singles. But Simpson is having his best season since 2012 – by a mile – and Watson, who has won three times this season, has regained some momentum of late. They could surprise in Paris.
Henrik Stenson-Justin Rose: Played three of four sessions together in 2016 – each of them opposite Spieth and Reed – and went 1-2, though their 5-and-4 Friday afternoon four-ball victory was mighty impressive. Also, they went 3-0 together at Gleneagles. This pairing is as safe a bet as any.
Rory McIlroy-Jon Rahm: McIlroy has seemed to embrace the role of taking a rookie under his wing after going 3-0 with Thomas Pieters at Hazeltine. Rahm is similar to Pieters on the course and McIlroy could help Rahm channel that passion into points.
Paul Casey-Tommy Fleetwood: Both players had some fun with the story of Fleetwood wanting to buy Casey’s extra set of Nike irons. And while it doesn’t look like Casey will loan the set to Fleetwood in Paris like he had joked about doing, the two Englishmen would make a nice pairing. Both are great iron players and similar personality types.
Ian Poulter-Tyrrell Hatton: Poulter’s great 2012 Ryder Cup showing came when he paired with Rose and McIlroy. However, after an 0-1-1 team performance in 2014 and not qualifying in 2016, Poulter likely needs a fresh partner. How about the fiery Hatton? The two teamed up to break a world record in a European Tour social video last year, and I could see Poulter as a perfect Ryder Cup role model for the emotional Hatton.
Alex Noren-Thorbjorn Olesen: I initially had Noren and Molinari teaming up, but felt that Sergio Garcia needed Molinari the most. Noren is a guy who could play with anyone. You never have to question his work ethic and though he and Olesen are rookies, they aren’t strangers to big moments. They also have similar games – Noren is a better driver of the golf ball, but they are pretty equal in other facets. Both putt it well, too.
Sergio Garcia-Francesco Molinari: Many of Garcia’s recent partners – Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer and Rafa Cabrera Bello – did not qualify. And while he paired with McIlroy three times in 2014, it seems as if McIlroy will again be tasked with motivating a rookie. Assuming that, it makes most sense to pair the struggling Garcia with a consistent presence like Molinari, who is a strong tee-to-green guy and proven on the Ryder Cup stage.
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 16, 2018
Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed: What, I’m going to suggest breaking up this pair?? In seven Ryder Cup matches as a duo, Spieth and Reed have lost once – when the opposing team made nine birdies in 14 holes, no less. We know how electric and efficient this pairing is. No need to overthink this one.
Tiger Woods-Brooks Koepka: Look, I’m in no way against the TW-Bryson pairing that the vast majority are pointing toward (see above). Clearly the duo has rapport. But part of Woods’ surprisingly mediocre Ryder Cup record outside of singles is that it’s long been difficult to find him a comfortable partner. Partners being some form of intimidated or awestruck has played a role in that, in my opinion. DeChambeau would probably fall in the awestruck category. But Koepka wouldn’t. The evidence is right there from last month when Brooks was unfazed by a charging Tiger and won the PGA Championship. Koepka and Woods clearly have rapport as well (See: post-round greeting at the PGA) and man would their power, steely demeanors and games make up an intimidating pair for any European squad to come up against. This seems like a winning team on swagger alone.
Bryson DeChambeau-Webb Simpson: This would be a pairing that could sneak up on the Europeans and lull them into a false sense of security. Neither player flashes with booming drives, but both are incredibly efficient. I especially like them as a foursomes pairing, as DeChambeau is a supreme ball-striker and Simpson boasts an excellent short game.
Dustin Johnson-Justin Thomas: Yes, I’m breaking up “the gym buddies” pairing of DJ and Koepka. But I don’t see this as controversial in the least considering that pairing lost 3 and 1 (and it could’ve been easily worse) in their only Ryder Cup grouping. They did go 2-0 together at the Presidents Cup, but these two don’t have any semblance of the Spieth-Reed dominance in its results. Substituting Thomas in here keeps this as a fierce pairing of huge power hitters, so the intimidation is still real. Just have a feeling, too, that DJ and JT could mesh well as partners.
Phil Mickelson-Tony Finau: Who better to pair a Ryder Cup rookie bursting with talent than Lefty? Mickelson certainly knows what it’s like to be a hotshot young gun and has vast Ryder Cup experience, so he could serve as an extremely useful advisor in this pairing. I also think these two have like temperaments in that they like to think and play aggressive. They should fuel off each other, and with both in good form that is very dangerous for any opponent.
Bubba Watson-Rickie Fowler: You want Watson to feel comfortable, and he should with a friend and cool customer in Fowler. This group would have great chemistry, and if both are on form there may not be a team in this event that makes as many birdies.
Henrik Stenson-Justin Rose: That pairing that defeated Reed and Spieth with nine birdies in 14 holes? That would be Stenson and Rose, who demolished the pair 5 and 4 in that 2016 match. Overall, they are 4-2 together in the last two Ryder Cups and are as reliable a pair as any outside Spieth/Reed.
Rory McIlroy-Ian Poulter: This pairing has gone 1-0-1 in Ryder Cup competition. That win, if you recall, was the one that catalyzed the Miracle at Medinah in 2012, as Poulter birdied the final five holes in a Saturday afternoon four-ball match to give him and McIlroy a comeback 1-up win, cut the deficit to 10-6 and energize the Euros. McIlroy has really embraced playing the Ryder Cup with an outpouring of emotion and starred doing so in 2016. It’d be tough to find a more perfect pairing in that regard.
Paul Casey-Tommy Fleetwood: This would be similar to Stenson and Rose in the all-reliable mold. Fleetwood may be a rookie, but he has shown he can quickly get on track on big stages. Casey obviously has plenty of previous pedigree. This is not a duo you can fall asleep on for one second.
Jon Rahm-Tyrrell Hatton: This is probably my riskiest pairing choice, but it has high potential. These are both highly emotional young stars who could build off each others’ histrionics in the charged Ryder Cup atmosphere. Of course, there’s also the chance their incredible combination of emotion could lead to combustion. But it’s the Ryder Cup, go big or go home.
Alex Noren-Francesco Molinari: On the other side, this is the mellow pairing. Both players are stoic, like to play precise golf and tend to sneak under the radar. Together they make a dangerous and dangerously overlooked pairing.
Sergio Garcia-Thorbjorn Olesen: Remember when Garcia was a young up and comer who dominated in the Ryder Cup thanks in part to his incredible energy? Probably a good idea to pair the struggling Masters champion with someone who can bring back memories of that youthful exuberance. Rahm is a good candidate here then, but I like Olesen a little better. Rahm can get a little hard on himself, whereas Olesen can better provide that uplifting youthful energy that can help elevate Garcia. You also need someone in form here considering Garcia’s struggles, and Olesen is certainly that as he has four top-12 finishes in his last six starts.