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Monty likes his chances after Pavin's picks for openers

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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NEWPORT, Wales -- The look on Colin Montgomerie's face said at least as much as the words falling out of his mouth. Not that there was much gray area with the latter.

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Pretty certain that he had just rocked the house with his speech at the Ryder Cup opening ceremony, at least compared to the somber and bungled offerings of his counterpart, the European captain looked like the cat who ate the canary.

Between his own ears, if not those of most evaluating the lineup cards issued for Friday's opening session at Celtic Manor, you can score one for General Monty even before the matches have begun.

While Montgomery served up the pairings he had all but telegraphed during practice this week, U.S. captain Corey Pavin is sending off four of his five rookies in the critical Friday morning best-ball session and not using Tiger Woods until the third match.

First, Pavin forgot to introduce Ryder veteran Stewart Cink in the opening ceremonies and his Friday-morning pairing sheet wasn't particularly well-received, either. Well, except by Monty and his 12-man team.

After the pairings were announced, Monty had a contented look on his mug, and in a manner of speaking, it was a defensible posture to take. Pavin raised eyebrows and a slew of questions by using so many rookies, including the debatable decision to pair hyper first-timers Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson in the anchor fourth match, where they will face Ryder veterans Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald.

"Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington would not have expected to play two rookies in the last game," Monty said in his inimitably smug fashion. "As I say, unexpected."

As for Woods' position in the third match, where he will team with Steve Stricker against the English tandem of Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher, Monty was even more, shall we say, analytical.

"I was expecting Tiger to go first or fourth," Monty said, staring at the lineup card. "Tiger, being hidden, is a different move."

If Woods wasn't motivated before, he's sure to be wide awake now. "Steve and I have had some success in the past and I am looking forward to getting out there," Woods said to a PGA of America official after the opening ceremony.

Both captains indicated they intended to play all 12 players in one of the two Friday sessions, and for Pavin, that meant the morning benching of Hunter Mahan, who was unbeaten in five matches in 2008, and veteran Jim Furyk, who just won the FedEx Cup finale and $11.35 million last Sunday in Atlanta.

"He said he was tired -- he's been counting the money," Pavin said of Furyk, a line that drew only modest laughter. "You'll see him out by the afternoon."

Will the Yanks be out of it by then? History has proven conclusively that the Friday morning session sets the clear tone, so rolling out rookies is an iffy proposition. Watson and Overton are the first American rookies to be paired in the Friday morning session since Bill Rogers and Bruce Lietzke in 1981.

"I felt like if I waited to play them," Pavin said of his caffeinated final pair, "they would go crazy waiting."

That might be true of Poulter, too. Stricker and Woods were 4-0 together at the Presidents Cup last fall, but the Brits were nonetheless licking their chops. The animated Poulter was 4-1 at the Ryder in 2008, while Fisher is one of three rookies Monty used in the morning session. Poulter is hardly a shrinking violet when it comes to Woods.

"Ian Poulter left the stage anxious already to play," Monty said.

That might be an understatement, actually.

"If ever there was a match you are going to want to play, it is their best two players," Poulter said. "It's going to be one helluva match. I cannot wait. The crowd tomorrow is going to be electric. I can't wait to give them some feedback."

Added Fisher, usually a fairly bland guy: "We are really pumped. We want to really get out there and give it to them."

Starting the four-match parade at 7:45 a.m. local time are Phil Mickelson, who also has played in three opening Ryder matches in his career, and power-hitting rookie Dustin Johnson. That pairing, aside from being placed at the top of the lineup card by Pavin, was not particularly surprising. They will face world No. 3 Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.

"You've got to hit the ball in this thing sooner or later, so you might as well hit first," Westwood said.

Pavin patiently defended his leadoff decision, despite a fairly good grilling on that issue and other fronts.

"I think all of the teams are very strong," he said. "But Phil likes to get out there and get after it and Dustin has been champing at the bit, too. I thought that was a great pair to start off."

Johnson, who has two wins this year, was hardly taken aback by his leadoff slot.

"We like playing together and we get along great and bring a lot of energy," Johnson said of Mickelson, a frequent practice partner.

The Northern Ireland pairing of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy will face Georgia Tech alums Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar in the second match off the tee.

"Four guys have to sit out every round," Pavin said. "I'm trying to get everybody out."

That tack comes with potential pitfalls. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, the fate of the underdog Americans could effectively be settled before most fans back in the States have cracked open their box of Cheerios on Friday morning.

In 2008, the Americans won the morning matches on Friday in decisive fashion, jumping to a 3-1 lead and scoring at least a half-point in every match, and eventually won the Ryder for the first time since 1999. Otherwise, the Yanks had not won the opening session since 1991.

Part of the '08 magic might have been due to then-captain Paul Azinger's decision to flip the Friday formats. The U.S. lost Friday morning best-ball sessions in 2002, 2004 and 2006 before Azinger elected to open with foursomes (alternate shot) in 2008 just to shake things up.

Montgomerie, no dummy, wisely used his prerogative as the home-team captain to change the opening session back to best ball, moving the alternate-shot format to the afternoon.

"Momentum has to be gained early on and then continued through the afternoon to gain the lead on Friday evening, and that's my goal," Monty said. "My goal is to lead Friday evening, if at all possible.

"It's all set up for that. That's the plan of attack here."

The satisfied look on his face had communicated that much already.

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