CHASKA, Minn. — It’s the front load of all front loads and the dream match-up at Hazeltine National.
Trailing 9½-6½, European captain Darren Clarke has stocked the top of his lineup in extreme fashion with Rory McIlroy leading off and rookie Matthew Fitzpatrick in the anchor spot.
U.S. captain Davis Love III made out his lineup, led by match-play star Patrick Reed and anchored by Zach Johnson. The blind pairings, made after each team submits a lineup, provide three enormous must-see matches: Reed vs. McIlroy, Jordan Spieth vs. Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson vs. Sergio Garcia.
Love has more experience than anyone in Ryder Cup history after having been a huge part of two matches where record comebacks defined the outcomes and players’ careers. He was a 6-and-5 winner as part of Captain Ben Crenshaw’s 1999 U.S. team at Brookline that came back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit. No Ryder Cup team had ever rallied from four points down in Sunday singles, so Crenshaw consulted with assistant captain’s Bill Rogers and Bruce Lietzke, developing a top-loaded lineup. Europe’s Mark James countered with a few of his stars early, then tried to hide some struggling players before finishing with more top players. Team USA pounced early and erased the lead faster than anyone could have imagined.
Since then, front-loading has become an almost essential ploy for the trailing Ryder Cup teams. In 2012, with Love as U.S. captain, his European counterpart, José Maria Olazábal, needed 8½ points to retain the cup. He fielded a top-heavy lineup while Love mixed his order, saving Tiger Woods for the final spot.
Speaking to Golf Digest years after the Brookline comeback but before his Medinah captaincy, Love said the art of constructing a lineup to finish off the matches with your ideal closer is, well, not easy.
“It always seems to fall on the wrong guy anyway, no matter how you do it,” Love said.
With that in mind, Clarke is playing all of his best early while Love, sporting a deeper team, enjoys the luxury of slotting Zach Johnson, a two-time major champion, in the anchor spot just in case things come down to the end.
Sunday Singles matches (all times local, CT)
11:04 a.m.: Patrick Reed vs. Rory McIlroy
11:15 a.m.: Jordan Spieth vs. Henrik Stenson
11:26 a.m.: J.B. Holmes vs. Thomas Pieters
11:37 a.m.: Rickie Fowler vs. Justin Rose
11:48 a.m.: Jimmy Walker vs. Rafa Cabrera Bello
11:59 a.m.: Phil Mickelson vs. Sergio Garcia
12:10 p.m.: Ryan Moore vs. Lee Westwood
12:21 p.m.: Brandt Snedeker vs. Andy Sullivan
12:32 p.m.: Dustin Johnson vs. Chris Wood
12:43 p.m.: Brooks Koepka vs. Danny Willett
12:54 p.m.: Matt Kuchar vs. Martin Kaymer
1:05 p.m.: Zach Johnson vs. Matthew Fitzpatrick