News & Opinion

Mickelson can only cheer in Ryder opener

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Ryder Cup captains Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn had some surprises when they announced their pairings for this morning’s opening session at Le Golf National.

The first surprise from Thursday’s opening ceremony: Phil Mickelson, one of Furyk’s four captain’s picks for the U.S. squad, will not be part of the morning four-balls (pairings). It will be the first opening session that Mickelson has missed since 1995, when he was a Ryder Cup rookie.

Mickelson proved to be a controversial pick for his 12th Ryder Cup. Since winning the WGC Mexico Championship on March 4 – his first victory in five years – Mickelson, 48, had recorded only one top-10 result and fallen from fourth in the Ryder Cup points list to 10th.

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Jim Furyk (left) opted to do what no other U.S. Ryder Cup captain has done since 1995: sit Phil Mickelson for the opening session.

© GOLFFILE/PHIL INGLIS
Jim Furyk (left) opted to do what no other U.S. Ryder Cup captain has done since 1995: sit Phil Mickelson for the opening session.

Last week at the Tour Championship, Mickelson finished last at 13 over par, 24 shots behind winner Tiger Woods. Considering that Mickelson is only 8-8-2 in four-balls and 5-7-4 in foursomes at the Ryder Cup, it’s hard to believe that he will play in the afternoon foursomes, either.

“I think what I have right now is 12 guys that are committed to anything that it takes in the team room,” Furyk said after the pairings were announced. “I've had a number of guys tell me that in the team room. I've heard a number of them say it here in their interviews. The hard part is calling guys and telling them they are not captain's picks, and hard part is telling guys, ‘We're going to rest you tomorrow morning.’ ”

Reading between the lines, one or more U.S. players might not see the golf course with a club in their hands.

On the European side, Alex Noren, the winner of the HNA French Open at Le Golf National this year, will sit out the first session with captain’s picks Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia. Bjorn’s three picks have a combined record of 37-23-11 over 17 Ryder Cups.

Bjorn, like Furyk, was unwilling to commit to all 12 players competing today.

“It's one of those things that your dream is probably to play everyone, but we'll have to wait and see,” Bjorn said. “There's so many things that can happen in the space of an hour, an hour and a half in a Ryder Cup. I've not locked that down at all, but we'll wait and see. It's certainly a strong group of guys that are sitting and waiting to get out to play.”

In Bjorn’s case, the selection of Garcia, Stenson and Poulter was viewed as a way to support the five rookies on the team, but it seems ludicrous that experience was the sole reason.

Stenson reportedly has lingering problems with a left elbow that he injured during the summer, but Bjorn discounted that as a reason for Stenson’s absence in this morning’s four-balls.

“I'm quite sure that you'll see them on the golf course at some stage before Sunday,” Bjorn said. “They fall into the group like anybody else. They know what they are and what they represent, and what they can go out and deliver. It's all about building for the whole week. I believe in that strongly, but as I said before, I had some guys that are really, really keen on getting out on the golf course, and they have never been here before. I felt like it was really important to get them out there, because I believe in them and I trust them.”

In 1999, European captain Mark James had seven rookies on his team at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Three of the rookies – Andrew Coltart, Jarmo Sandelin and Jean Van de Velde – did not play until Sunday.

That team took a four-shot lead into Sunday’s singles but earned only 3½ points on Sunday and lost the matches, 14½-13½. All three of those rookies lost their singles matches. Among the seven rookies, only Padraig Harrington and Paul Lawrie won their matches.

The 1999 result could be a barometer of what can happen when players sit.

On the American side, Phil Mickelson and Webb Simpson sat out the entire second day at Gleneagles in 2014. The U.S. lost, 16½-11½, but Mickelson won his singles match and Simpson added a half-point.

This morning’s four-balls schedule:

8:10 a.m. local time (2:10 a.m. EDT): Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau (U.S.) vs. Justin Rose and Jon Rahm

8:25 a.m. local time (2:25 a.m. EDT): Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler (U.S.) vs. Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen

8:40 a.m. local time (2:40 a.m. EDT): Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth (U.S.) vs. Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton

8:55 a.m. local time (2:55 a.m. EDT): Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed (U.S.) vs. Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli