Match Play: Familiar Pairings Announced For Presidents Cup Opening Round

Presidents Cup captains Steve Stricker and Nick Price announced their opening round foursome pairings which begin Thursday at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey.

A couple surprises were revealed amongst the groups, but for the most part, it stayed true to what golf enthusiasts predicted. Two players from each team will not be competing on Thursday – Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman for the U.S. and Adam Hadwin and Anirban Lahiri.

Here’s a breakdown of the matchups on Day 1:

Rickie Fowler/Justin Thomas (USA) vs. Hideki Matsuyama/Charl Schwartzel (INT)

“What? You mean best friends Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas aren’t grouped together?” – every golf network commentator.

It will disappoint some that the two 24-year-olds aren’t playing partners on Day 1, but Stricker made the right decision with the two phenoms. In his debut Presidents Cup appearance, JT will have familiarity with Fowler as his teammate and should feed off one another extremely well. Fowler struggled in the 2015 Presidents Cup (1-3-0), so he’ll be hoping for a much better week.

Pressure is on Matsuyama as International’s top-ranked player, but his struggles in the FedEx Cup playoffs are a real concern. After finishing fifth at the PGA Championship, the Japanese star’s next 14 rounds featured nine in the 70s. Meanwhile, Schwartzel was an average player in 2017, placing in the top 30 for his final three starts.

Prediction: Fowler/Thomas win

Dustin Johnson/Matt Kuchar (USA) vs. Adam Scott/Jhonattan Vegas (INT)

The DJ-Kooch pairing should come as no surprise considering their acquaintance at the 2016 Ryder Cup. The duo dominated Lee Westwood and Thoms Pieters in foursome competition, then nearly beat out Rory McIlroy and Pieters the following day. Both Americans are playing well and should be a balanced team of excellent driving (Johnson) and short game (Kuchar). Also, at the Presidents Cup two years ago, DJ held an overall record of 3-1-0.

We previously mentioned Scott’s struggles in match play (13-17-5) due to his poor putting, and now he is paired with one of the worst putters on the PGA Tour (171st out of 190) in Vegas. This will be an uphill battle against the world’s top golfer and Kuchar.

Prediction: Johnson/Kuchar win

Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed (USA) vs. Si Woo Kim/Emiliano Grillo (INT)

Spieth and Reed famously emerged as a dangerous match play at last year’s Ryder Cup, compiling a 2-1-1 record which included two victories over Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Reed aka Captain America embraces this moment as a fiery competitor who takes pride in his country, while Spieth can virtually play with anyone given his skillset.

This pairing of Kim and Grillo by the International team came as a surprise with Price matching up two rookies. Word is the two have gelled well in practice rounds, but they will be massive underdogs against Spieth and Reed. Both Kim and Grillo are below average putters and can go off the rails. Kim hasn’t produced a top 30 finish on the PGA Tour since June, while Grillo’s most recent tournament was a T58 at the BMW Championship.

Prediction: Spieth/Reed dominate

Brooks Koepka/Daniel Berger (USA) vs. Branden Grace/Louis Oosthuizen (INT)

The final two matches should give the International side opportunities to gain points on Thursday, beginning with Grace/Oosthuizen. The team was perfect (4-0-0) at the 2015 Presidents Cup, and against two American rookies, are in prime position.

However, the recent success by Koepka and Berger will lead to a competitive match. Koepka, the reigning U.S. Open champion, has totaled six consecutive rounds in the 60s and is trending in the right direction. Meanwhile, I think Berger will emerge as a prominent player for the United States team. He’s got the talent and competitiveness which will give Grace and Louis a run for their money.

Prediction: Grace/Oosthuizen win

Kevin Kisner/Phil Mickelson (USA) vs. Jason Day/Marc Leishman (INT)

The final matchup of the day featured four veterans all over 29-years-old. The youngster in the group is Jason Day, coming off a solid late summer stretch that included four top 10s from the PGA Championship on. The fellow Australian looked to be a favorite to bring home the FedEx Cup trophy, but simply ran out of gas in the tour finale.

Mickelson has an excellent record in foursome matches at 11-6-3, and his playing partner Kisner is coming off a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship. Mickelson squared off with Day in 2015 in both foursome and fourball meetings, with Lefty earning a 1-0-1 record. But in the loss, Day played with Steven Bowditch, and the upgrade to Leishman will serve him well.

Prediction: Day/Leishman win