Phil Mickelson to play Ryder Cup opener

Updated: September 30, 2010, 7:30 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

NEWPORT, Wales -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are part of the United States' opening lineup Friday morning at the Ryder Cup, but Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan are not.

The top two players in the world were expected to participate in the first session at Celtic Manor, but it came as a surprise -- especially to European captain Colin Montgomerie -- that two premier players in Furyk and Mahan will watch the opening session.

Furyk is coming off an $11.35 million payday Sunday after capturing the Tour Championship and winning the FedEx Cup. He moved to No. 5 in the world, and U.S. captain Corey Pavin quipped that he was tired from "counting all of his money."

Furyk was unavailable for comment and Pavin gave no other meaningful explanation other than to say that somebody has to sit out each session. Mahan played all five matches at Valhalla two years ago and went undefeated.

Pavin instead is going with two rookies, Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton, in the final match of the first session.

"I would expect to see them in the afternoon," said Montgomerie of Furyk and Mahan. "Jim Furyk has always been one of the steadiest, most consistent players in America since I started competing in Ryder Cups against him in 1997. I've always had great respect for his game. Whether he's tired or whatever ... you'd expect them to be playing together in the afternoon."

Watson and Overton will anchor the U.S. squad and go against two veterans: England's Luke Donald and Ireland's Padraig Harrington.

"Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington wouldn't expect to play two rookies in the last game. They wouldn't have expected that," Montgomerie said. "I can honestly say to you that Luke and Padraig weren't expecting that last game, which is an important game. I don't think you guys did either."

Said Donald: "It was probably the one pairing you wouldn't have guessed in their team. But they're very long hitters, and this is a course that's playing long, so they're likely to make a lot of birdies. No match is easy, so we'll respect them just like we respect any opponents. Hopefully we can make a few more birdies than they do."

Mickelson will team with Dustin Johnson in the opening match against England's Lee Westwood and Germany's Martin Kaymer in a game that will have three of the top six players in the world. They are scheduled to tee off at 2:45 a.m. ET (7:45 a.m. local time).

The second game pits Stewart Cink and Ryder Cup rookie Matt Kuchar against the Northern Irish team of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

Woods is in the third game -- Montgomerie referred to it as the world's No. 1 player being "hidden" -- and alongside expected partner Steve Stricker. The duo went 4-0 at last year's Presidents Cup.

"Looking forward to it," said Woods, who was one of Pavin's at-large picks. "Steve and I obviously had some success in the past and looking forward to getting out there. The whole idea is to play well and whatever happens, happens. The whole idea is to get a point and that's what we are going to try to do."

They will take on Englishmen Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.

"It's going to be a hell of a match," Poulter said. "I cannot wait. 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."

Along with Furyk and Mahan, Zach Johnson and Rickie Fowler will sit out the four-ball session. The Europeans who will watch are Francesco Molinari, Edoardo Molinari, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Peter Hanson.

Montgomerie's pairings went according to form and he said they are the same teams he planned on putting out a week ago. He said he will use all 12 players Friday, so the four players who are sitting out will compete in foursomes in the afternoon format also known as alternate shot.

The pairings were announced at the opening ceremonies for the Ryder Cup on Thursday afternoon.

There are eight matches Friday, eight more (four four-ball, four foursomes) on Saturday and 12 singles matches on Sunday.

The United States needs 14 points to retain the Cup it won in 2008; Europe needs 14½ points to win the Cup.

"This is what I've been waiting for since December of 2008 when I got a call to be captain," Pavin said. "I'm very excited that the matches are about to start."

Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com