PARIS — Practice is over. Preparation is done. It’s time to decide whether the United States can retain the Ryder Cup it won two years ago at Hazeltine or if Europe can maintain its dominance on home soil and take control of the Cup again.
Here is a look at what to expect Friday at Le Golf National:
SCORE: UNITED STATES 0, EUROPE 0
First session: Four-ball
What to watch: I’m convinced whoever wins this session will lead by lunch. Koepka and Finau could lose, and Europe could get off to an emotional start with the crowd behind it. The Americans know they’re the favorites, so if doubt starts to creep in, Europe captain Thomas Bjorn will look like a genius. But if the United States’ most explosive duo comes out and makes 10 birdies between them (a very real possibility), suddenly they’ve knocked off Europe’s best player and put doubt in the head of an extremely important (and volatile) rookie. Lest you think Finau is the least accomplished player in this foursome, consider this: Of his past 24 rounds, 22 of them have been in the 60s. — Kevin Van Valkenburg
Match 1 Results Prediction!!
What to watch: This pairing seems like a dangerous one for the Europeans. Olesen was not good on this course at the French Open, shooting an ugly 72-77 to miss the cut this summer. McIlroy seems deep in the midst of a swing change. While he sometimes looks great, in the final round of the Tour Championship he was a mess. His putter hasn’t done him any favors even when he does strike it well. On the other side, you have two of the best putters and mid-iron players on the planet. If Europe snagged a point here, it would feel like a big upset. — Van Valkenburg
Match 2 Result Prediction!! Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler vs. Rory McIlroy and Thorbjørn Olesen
What to watch: As you may have heard, somewhere close to half a million times, Spieth and Thomas have been friends for almost half their lives. Now we’ll finally get to see whether that translates into anything in a Ryder Cup. Spieth’s recent struggles shouldn’t mean too much in this format. It’s a bit of a surprise to see Spieth with someone other than Patrick Reed, considering their previous success (including at Gleneagles), but at least he’s with someone he’s comfortable with. Spieth doesn’t need to play 18 great holes, especially with Thomas firing at flags. He just needs to keep Thomas relaxed and make a few clutch up-and-downs to steal a halve or a win that will deflate Casey and Hatton. If there is one match the Americans would be heavily favored to win, I’d think it would be this one. If Casey and Hatton somehow steal it, the day could snowball quickly for the U.S. — Van Valkenburg
Michael Collins makes his pick in the Jordan Spieth/Justin Thomas vs. Paul Casey/Tyrrell Hatton match.
What to watch: If you could watch only one match on Friday, this would probably be it. And it’s not just for the Tiger factor, but because it’s going to feature the best iron play and probably the most emotion (97 percent of it coming from Reed, who will be harassed all match by the European fans, much to his delight). I actually think it would be a small upset if the United States got a full point here, because Reed hasn’t played well in months, Tiger hasn’t played well in very many Ryder Cup team matches, and it’s going up against two of the best ball strikers Europe has. But the truth is, Reed has been dreaming of this pairing since he was playing junior golf, and Woods has to be eager to erase the perception that he never brings his A game to this event. — Van Valkenburg
Michael Collins makes a bold call in the Patrick Reed/Tiger Woods vs. Francesco Molinari/Tommy Fleetwood match.
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