PARIS -- One thing about the Ryder Cup stands true: It's never boring. And with Tiger Woods hot and Jordan Spieth not, with Justin Rose hot and Sergio Garcia not, there should be no shortage of drama at Le Golf National. So our experts gathered round to debate heroes, GOATs and the winner of the Ryder Cup.
1. If you were U.S. captain Jim Furyk, how would you use Tiger Woods this week?
Bob Harig: A format that seemed a weakness should now be considered a strength. Tiger seems perfect for foursomes, given his strong iron play and improved driving. He'd only have to hit nine tee shots, and three of them potentially would be on par 3s, meaning he'd potentially be hitting 12 approach shots. Play him two matches Friday, give him Saturday morning off, and let him go with Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed or Bryson DeChambeau.
Michael Collins: Tiger plays three times. He should play four-ball Friday/Saturday and singles on Sunday. He should be paired with Phil Mickelson on Friday, and they should be the first group out. That sends a clear message to the European team that this ain't gonna be like it used to be; we're here to kick your butt. On Saturday, Tiger should play with Patrick Reed. On Sunday, Rory McIlroy better stay in his hotel room, 'cause if he comes out this time, he's going to get mauled by a Tiger -- again -- if they go head-to-head in singles.
Kevin Van Valkenburg: I'd only play him in three sessions. This team is very deep, and the need to play Tiger in every single session in the past (out of respect for the best player on earth) created a problem with flexibility for previous captains. A fresh Tiger is way better than one who is dragging by Sunday. I'd play him in the morning on Friday with Patrick Reed, in the afternoon with Reed or DeChambeau on Saturday (especially because it will be freezing Saturday morning but warm up by the afternoon), then send him out early in singles. Don't save him for late.
Tom Hamilton: He should listen to how Woods' body is holding up, but if he is fit and firing, then throw him in at every opportunity over Friday and Saturday. He would work well, with a touch of a mentoring role, alongside Tony Finau or Bryson Dechambeau. If you want a box-office pairing, then stick him alongside Jordan Spieth. Come Sunday, if things are nicely poised, then hold Woods back until one of the final matches and let the likes of Patrick Reed soak up the early fervor. Then send Woods out to keep the American foot on the European neck.
Matt Cooper: I would fret less about the details of who he plays with and instead focus on how he can be best utilized to inspire his teammates and intimidate the opposition. Suss that out, and the other business will take care of itself. Which is not to say that it will be easy to work the Tiger alchemy. But it will be easier for Furyk than for past American captains. If pushed on a pairing, Bryson DeChambeau says he wants the gig, so give it to him.
2. Who is the one player Europe captain Thomas Bjorn should be most concerned about? How about the American Furyk should be most worried about?
Harig: The obvious choice for Bjorn is Sergio Garcia, who has had a tough year and played just one tournament in the past month. He might also be a tad concerned about Rory McIlroy, who could stand to drive the ball better than he did last week on what is a much tighter course in Le Golf National. For Furyk, there are several concerns, led by Patrick Reed, whom you would expect to play all five matches but who hasn't had one top-10 since the U.S. Open and was substandard during the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs.
Collins: Bjorn should be concerned with Sergio. Not about what he'll bring to the team room, but what he'll bring to the course. Furyk should be concerned with Phil Mickelson for the same reasons. The trick will be to pair Phil with Tiger on Friday and Bryson DeChambeau on Saturday, both times during four-ball.
Van Valkenburg: Henrik Stenson. In the past, he and Justin Rose have been a formidable pairing for Europe, but Stenson hasn't play well for much of this season and is nursing an elbow injury. At age 42, this might be his last Ryder Cup. What does he have left? On the U.S. side, it's still a mystery what to do with Bubba Watson. You don't need to hit a driver at Le Golf National on more than four holes. If you take away Watson's biggest weapon, how good is he? He's 1-5 in Ryder Cup matches held in Europe.
Hamilton: Bjorn put his faith in Sergio Garcia, despite the Spaniard lacking form prior to being handed a wild card. He showed signs of improvement at the Portugal Masters, posting a top-10 finish, but Garcia needs to cut away from mediocrity and find the same type of form that saw him win the Masters in 2017. Garcia's experience will be invaluable, but that counts for nothing if he fails to post points on the board. The same goes for Furyk's faith in Phil Mickelson. He missed out on an automatic spot on this year's team for the first time since his 1995 debut, and though he showed a return to his best when he won the WGC-Mexico Championship in April, he struggled last time out at the Tiger Woods-dominated Tour Championship in Atlanta. That means he heads into the Ryder Cup with just one top-10 finish since his triumph in April.
Cooper: Bjorn will want to get the most from Sergio Garcia. It's one thing to have him on the side as a motivator, but to have him as a points accumulator too would be massive. One-nation partnerships are overrated (the stats prove as much), but the Spanish pairings have always been an exception, and Garcia-Jon Rahm could produce electricity. Phil Mickelson is turning into a millstone around Furyk's neck. It's faintly comic at the moment, but it might end up looking a little tragic if the worst comes to pass.
3. Which match among Friday morning's first session are you most looking forward to seeing?
Harig: Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed against Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. That is a strong European team that will have no issues playing against Tiger, as Molinari stood up to the test quite well at The Open and Fleetwood has played numerous rounds with him of late. The question is Reed, and his effectiveness. He loves the idea of playing with Tiger, and he is clearly the best European foil.
Collins: Count me all-in on the Woods/Reed pairing and their match with Molinari/Fleetwood. Especially since Reed was booed at the opening ceremonies and Tiger got an ovation that lasted almost a full minute. Remember, it's Molinari who stared Tiger down at The Open, and it was Molinari who took Tiger to the 18th hole in a previous Ryder Cup match on a Sunday. Fleetwood is the wild card here, and he will decide this match.
Van Valkenburg: To me, the very first match of the day, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau against Justin Rose and Jon Rahm, is the key to the entire morning session. If the Americans win, and I think they might, Europe could easily find itself down 3-1 or 4-0 at the end of the four-ball portion of Friday. If Rose and Rahm establish the Euros early, we're looking at 2-2. I love Furyk sending Koepka out first with a birdie machine like Finau. It will help Finau play loose and free knowing he's got a thoroughbred like Koepka to have his back. Rose is a steady, steely rock in this event, and should do a solid job of keeping Rahm from boiling over and melting down if he hits a bad shot. I predict whomever wins this match will lead going into lunch.
Hamilton: All four matches look tasty, but that last grouping will get the crowd cheering, booing and oohing in equal measure. The pantomime villain Reed is paired with Woods, who received a remarkable ovation at the opening ceremony. They're up against Fleetwood and the ice-cold Molinari for what should be a memorable matchup. A win for Europe and things should be nicely poised at the break, but if the U.S. wins, expect it to head into the afternoon 3-1 up.
Cooper: The final match. Europe's two Steady Eddies, Fleetwood and Molinari, are thrown in against a combination that has the potential to be explosive in Woods and Reed. If the latter work well together, they could overwhelm Europe through multiple matches, not just this one. But if the English-Italian alliance stands tall, it will send a message that the history of Euro underdogs thriving in this match can continue yet again.
4. You have one singles match on Sunday, the last on the course, and it will decide the Ryder Cup. What is your dream pairing?
Harig: Tiger-Sergio. The Ryder Cup no longer has the animosity and angst of years gone by, but these two still have a feud that, if no longer simmering, at least elicits proper disdain among them. Garcia has had a disappointing season, but a year ago he put up nine birdies against Phil Mickelson in a singles tie. And nobody uses grudges quite to their advantage like Woods. Such a match to decide the whole thing would be rich.
Collins: Simple: Patrick Reed vs. Rory McIlroy, Part Deux.
Van Valkenburg: Patrick Reed vs. Ian Poulter. Two overachievers, two emotional powder kegs, two Ryder Cup lions. Each has a playful arrogance that elevates his play in this event. Reed is the better player, but Poulter would have the home crowd behind him. Would be a joy to experience.
Hamilton: How fantastic it would be to see Rory McIlroy at his best walking down the 18th alongside Tiger Woods with the Ryder Cup on the line. The fiercely gifted McIlroy is unstoppable when he finds his sweet spot but will need to learn from his final-round failings in Atlanta, when he was paired with Woods. Woods is still the box-office act, and wherever he heads, crowds follow. But that pairing could be the perfect denouement to a memorable weekend.
Cooper: Woods-Poulter. The resurgent superstar of the sport versus Europe's talisman: David vs. Goliath. They typify the battle this event has become in the past four decades: the underachieving American (in the match at least) against the overachieving European. The delicious side dish is the personal friction between the two. Potential gold.
5. The hero of this Ryder Cup will be... ?
Harig: Phil Mickelson. It makes perfect sense. The oldest player in the Ryder Cup, who some consider a controversial captain's pick. He is playing in his 12th straight Ryder Cup and has never been part of a team that has won in Europe. He might only play three times, but it would be some story if Lefty came through for the United States in a big way.
Collins: Tony Finau. The man who's getting the least amount of press will be the man who stands the tallest in the brightest spotlight. Finau has quietly been able to take in everything, so there will be very little pressure on him -- until Sunday. By then he'll be so comfortable he will shine.
Van Valkenburg: Sergio Garcia is going to summon some old magic and play the way he hasn't in months. He'll win a few close matches that keep Europe in it until the very end, knowing this might be his last Ryder Cup in Europe as a player.
Hamilton: Apart from the obvious answer of Tiger, then how about Francesco Molinari from a European perspective. This course suits him, favoring accuracy and intelligent golf over bombastic drives from the tee. Molinari is playing the best golf of his career and is now a major-winner after his triumph at Carnoustie. In the mad cauldron of the Ryder Cup, Bjorn needs players to keep their heads, and Molinari can do that. He could be a key, quiet figure in the European charge this week.
Cooper: If America wins in the manner that many foresee, there would be no standout, instead an all-around dominance. If Europe wins, it needs a figure to lead the way. If nothing else, Poulter will stand up and give himself the chance to be that man.
6. Which side wins the Ryder Cup?
Harig: The United States -- and it's going to be close. So close that making a pick almost seems absurd. Such is the nature of the Ryder Cup, that looking at world rankings, previous form, venues, captains and all the factors that go into the competition are often rendered meaningless over the course of 28 matches. To think that over the past 25 years, the U.S. has four times lost by the score of 14½ to 13½ Or that it twice was blown out by nine points, but also won by a single point and was a big winner two years ago ... means very little. What it says on paper almost never holds true at the Ryder Cup, but the U.S. has to break its overseas drought at some point. This is the year.
Collins: The U.S. will win and retain the Ryder Cup. We're in France, but the loudest crowd noise will be from the American contingent making this feel more like a "home game" for them. That being said, it will come down to one of the final matches on Sunday, and the U.S. victory will be by less than two points.
Van Valkenburg: It's going to be close, closer than many think, but the United States is going to just eke it out in the end. It's been 25 years since the Americans won in Europe, but they have the better squad this time around and a good system with a smart captain. It's time.
Hamilton: As much as this is hard to type, you can't look beyond the U.S. securing their first win on European soil in 25 years. They have too much talent, too much confidence and will carry the Hazeltine optimism and dominance into Paris. It'll be tighter than two years ago and will come down to the final two or three pairings. But as the final pair approach the 18th, they will be greeted by stars and stripes, and the USA already celebrating.
Cooper: Whatever happens, I only hope it is tight; no one wants to watch a downbeat singles series. The Americans deserve to be considered the favorite, but it has been overplayed. They have won once in their last eight visits to Europe and lost six of eight matches in the 21st century. If the match were played every week from now until Christmas, America would lead the count, but it's only played once, and Europe can win it. Europe to edge it 14½-13½.