What do practice pairings mean?

September, 28, 2010

NEWPORT, Wales -- If we are to learn anything about each team's groupings during Tuesday's practice round at the Ryder Cup, it's that neither captain is tipping his hand toward any surprises.

U.S. skipper Corey Pavin sent his players in three separate foursomes, starting with Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker; then Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Jeff Overton; and finally Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.

Those groups include many potential pairings, including Woods/Stricker (who went undefeated together at last year's Presidents Cup), Fowler/Watson (who are good friends) and D. Johnson/Mickelson (who play many practice rounds together and have requested to be partners).

Though Pavin maintained that we shouldn't read too much into these early-week practice teams, it would be ignorant to disregard them as simply random selection.

"You know, I just put them in groups together," he said. "I'm not really about structure. I just want them to go out and play and do whatever they need to do for themselves to be ready to prepare for Friday. I can't tell them what to do. They know what to do."

Meanwhile, Europe captain Colin Montgomerie may be even more obvious with the formation of his practice round groups.

He led off with the foursome of Edoardo Molinari, Francesco Molinari, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy; then Peter Hanson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood; followed by Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Ross Fisher and Ian Poulter.

Monty has already revealed that the Molinari brothers and McDowell/McIlroy will indeed be paired for at least parts of the first two days, while rumors have placed Kaymer/Westwood and Donald/Harrington together, as well.

Asked what we should read into these early groups, though, the captain remained tight-lipped.

"Oh, nothing much really," Monty said. "I'm just using today as a practice round. We are going to chat about it this evening and see how we want to progress, but you can read more into the pairings possibly tomorrow and Thursday than you can today."

While neither team's roster may go out in the exact same foursomes in subsequent practice rounds, don't expect them to veer too far from these early groups, either. And really, they shouldn't. If the players know whom they want to play with and the captains are in agreement, there's no point in shaking things up for the sake of it.

Maybe we shouldn't read too much into these groups, but there is a definitive reason behind each of them.

Jason Sobel | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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