Justin Rose and Jon Rahm can get Europe off to a positive start
Thomas Bjorn causes pairings surprise
Sky Sports Main Event, 7.10am Friday
Thomas Bjorn shocked the world with his pairings for the opening session of the Ryder Cup, the European skipper leaving three of his most experienced campaigners on the sidelines for the morning fourballs.
Bjorn stayed extremely loyal to the automatic qualifiers by benching last year's Masters winner Sergio Garcia, Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter and 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson for the first battle at Le Golf National.
Garcia, Poulter and Stenson all required wildcard picks to get a place on the side, but it is remarkable that their captain feels none of the three tried and tested Ryder Cup warriors are needed for the tense early skirmishes.
Bjorn has separated Stenson from Justin Rose, a partnership that has been formidable in the past, preferring to put Jon Rahm alongside the Englishman. The skipper has put his fellow Dane, Thorbjorn Olesen, with Rory McIlroy.
The home captain has used a Ryder Cup rookie in each of the four pairings, a gamble which seems crazy in an event where getting off to a strong start is so important.
Fortunately for Bjorn, his counterpart Jim Furyk announced a couple of peculiar pairings of his own, meaning Europe may be able to scrape a draw from the session.
Tony Finau has been rushed into his debut, teaming up with Brooks Koepka for the first time in the opening match. The duo are far from certain to gel and preference is for Rose and Rahm. The calmness of Rose, who finished third in the 2003 French Open at this venue and has just won the FedEx Cup, could be the perfect foil for fired-up rookie Rahm.
The Spaniard has finished tenth and fifth in two French Open appearances at Le Golf National, so he can also hit the ground running. The Rose-Rahm combination, although a surprise, has the makings of a fantastic one.
Punters who have already backed Rose to be the top European scorer should be on excellent terms with themselves. If he gets Rahm as a fourballs partner throughout, with Stenson stepping in for the foursomes, the former US Open champion should feast on points. Three of his biggest dangers for top honours – Garcia, Poulter and Stenson – will definitely be on zero points after session one. Rose is still a backable price.
Furyk has split the a widely anticipated fourballs pairing off Koepka and Dustin Johnson, instead putting Johnson with Rickie Fowler in match two. These two are obviously world class, but McIlroy and Olesen have much more experience of Le Golf National, which could prove decisive.
McIlroy loved having a young rookie – Thomas Pieters – as his partner for the last Ryder Cup. Olesen, twice a top-three finisher in the French Open on this track, has been given a good chance of getting a first point. McIlroy has finished fourth and third in his two most recent French Opens.
Europe may go two up, before two formidable American duos level the scores. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas will love teaming up and look the most likely winners on the fourballs card. Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton is an uninspiring selection from Bjorn in match three.
Tiger Woods, given a hero's welcome during the opening ceremony, joins Patrick Reed in a beast of a pairing. Two of the mentally toughest competitors in the sport are likely to throw everything at Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari. Rookie Fleetwood could not have got a more intimidating start to his Ryder Cup career.
Opening session draw
2pts 14-5 Betfred
J Rose & J Rahm
2pts 11-10 Betfair, Paddy Power
J Spieth & J Thomas
2pts 10-11 Betfair, BoyleSports, Paddy Power
J Rose top European scorer
1pt 5-1 Coral, Lads, Sky Bet
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