Woods, Stricker paired for Ryder Cup start

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NEWPORT, WALES (AP) - Good thing for the Americans the Ryder Cup ultimately comes down to golf shots, not style points.

U.S. captain Corey Pavin, his voice unsteady at the opening ceremony Thursday, introduced the 11 players on his squad and was about to sit down when he realized each team had 12 to a side.

He overlooked Stewart Cink, one of his captain’s picks.

Then came the lineups for the opening session, with Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in the third slot. It was the first time since 1999 that Woods was not in the first match, leading European captain Colin Montgomerie to suggest the Americans were trying to hide him.

Leading off for the Americans in fourballs is Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, a big hitter whose driver broke on the range.

Asked if Europe already felt it was 1-up based on Pavin’s gaffe, Montgomerie said:

“I suppose that was a mistake. He just missed the one. He read the wrong name, but that was just unfortunate. I think he was very, very good in covering his tracks. It went very well. It was a first-class show up there.

“And yes,” he added, “we are 1 up.”

Europe had other reasons to feel confident about winning back the Ryder Cup when the matches get under way Friday. It has not lost on its home soil since 1993, and the crowd can play such a huge role in golf’s biggest bipartisan event.

It was evident on the final day of practice, when fans gave a standing ovation from the bleachers behind the greens on the back nine of Celtic Manor just at the sight of the European players approaching the green.

By Sunday, all that matters are the points on the board.

The Americans, who won two years ago at Valhalla to end a decade of European dominance, need only 14 points from the 28 matches to take the 17-inch gold trophy back home.

“I cannot wait,” said Ian Poulter, who will join Ross Fisher in taking on the Woods-Stricker tandem. “This crowd tomorrow is going to be electric. The roar on that first tee will be sensational. I can’t wait to hear it and I can’t wait to get pumped for it. I can’t wait to give them some feedback.”

The big mystery was the weather.

Celtic Manor already is lush and soggy from rain in recent weeks, and the forecast is for more rain and blustery wind for most of the day. And while Montgomerie said he didn’t try to alter the setup, it has become clear that the best strategy is to play out of the short grass.

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