U.S. players in the dark on pairings

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- When Lee Trevino was U.S. Ryder Cup captain, he had a simple attitude: pair the players, pat them on the back, and have them go at it. You get the feeling there wasn't a lot of science involved.

But as the Ryder Cup has grown, and the matches have become more intense, every move is scrutinized -- even for the captains, whose role is more than ceremonial.

Ask Curtis Strange. The losing captain of the 2002 U.S. team, Strange's strategy for putting his top players off last during the Sunday singles at The Belfry was highly scrutinized after the Americans were blitzed early by a front-loaded European lineup.

So what will Hal Sutton do? The U.S. captain made it clear this week at Oakland Hills Country Club that he has put a lot of thought into his pairings and order. But he's not saying what he'll do. Not even to the players themselves.

"I told them I wasn't going to set the pairings for the practice rounds," Sutton said. "Don't read anything into anybody you're playing with. Be prepared to beat the other two guys by yourself and if I give you a little help, then that's a bonus. So they have no clue as to who they are going to play with.

"If they know who it is, they start worrying about their partner's game instead of worrying about their own game. So we are worrying about our own game this week."

Interesting. The strategy is different, but it has plenty of merit. The Americans, who lost in 2002 and have just one victory since winning in 1993, seem to get off to a slow start in the team competition. So much thought is put into who will team better with whom that perhaps it is forgotten that in the Friday and Saturday morning competitions, fourball, each player plays his own ball.

What difference does it make who the partner is? The best score among the two counts.

Foursomes is a different matter. That is alternate shot, and having the proper pairings can be crucial. Some players use different styles of golf balls which could be harmful to the partner. There are theories about matching similar style players, or those who are friends, together. Sutton will undoubtedly be tinkering with that before Friday.

But the foursomes pairings don't have to be made until after the morning fourball competition is complete. Perhaps Sutton will be more concerned with who is playing well than who they are playing with.

"Some captains, we've known months in advance what our pairings might be, and they have actually come to fruition," Tiger Woods said. "This is certainly a different strategy and something that I've never experienced. I was talking to Davis (Love) about it earlier and he's been on the team since '93, and he's never experienced anything like that. So I think it's refreshing. We go out there and prepare like we always do for each and every tournament and then when your name is called, you go out there and try and get a point."

Five Things To Bank On
1. There has been so much attention on Tiger Woods' relatively poor Ryder Cup record that he will do something about it this year.

2. Colin Montgomerie will again be the star for Europe, despite no longer being among the elite players in the world. Monty is 16-7-5 in six previous Ryder Cups and always seems to be inspired.

3. Sad to say, but some obnoxious fan (or more) will make a jerk of himself, making everybody suffer for the actions of a few.

4. Best Ryder Cup twosome? How about Sergio Garcia-Lee Westwood.

5. It's uncanny how some no-name European always seems to play out of his mind at the Ryder Cup. Two years ago, it was Wales' Phillip Price. Do names such as Eamonn Darcy or Philip Walton or Paul Way ring a bell? So who will it be this week? How about England's David Howell, who has played all of four tournaments in the United States.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.