Liguori: Distractions On Both Sides As Ryder Cup Opens At Hazeltine

Mickelson-Sutton Spat, Criticism Of American Fans Provide The Backdrop As Expected Intense Competition Opens

By Ann Liguori
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CHASKA, Minn. (CBSNewYork) — It’s time to forget about Pete Willett insulting American fans and Phil Mickelson’s criticism of Hal Sutton, and move on to focusing on the performances of the top players from the United States and Europe. The Ryder Cup starts on Friday at Hazeltine National Golf Club and not a moment too soon.

This weekend is a must-win for the Americans, considering Europe has won three straight meetings and eight of the last 10 overall.

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Europe dominated two years ago at Gleneagles in Scotland, 16 1/2-11 1/2. Four years ago at Medinah Country Club, the Americans led 10-6 and needed only 4 1/2 points to win, but Europe rallied to win 14 1/2-13 1/2. It was nicknamed the “Miracle at Medinah” and it left the Americans stunned.

There is an interesting matchup for Friday’s 7:35 a.m. first pairing, which features the foursome (alternate shot) format. Patrick Reed, who wears his feistiness and competitive spirit on his sleeve, and Jordan Spieth take on Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose and silver medalist and reigning British Open champion Henrik Stenson in a match that should set the tone for the rest of the competition. Reed and Spieth went 2-0-1 at Gleneagles in 2014.

Next comes an intriguing question: Can Phil Mickelson, who is playing in his 11th Ryder Cup, and Rickie Fowler, playing in his third, stop Rory McIlroy and rookie Andy Sullivan?

Coming off winning the TOUR Championship last weekend and the overall FedEx Cup, a most confident McIlroy was pumped when it was announced that he would play with Sullivan, one of six rookies on the European team.

The Mickelson-Sutton spat came about after “Lefty” told reporters on Wednesday that he didn’t appreciate being paired with Tiger Woods on short notice back in 2004 at Oakland Hills. The comments bothered Sutton, the Ryder Cup captain that year, so much that he threatened to leave Hazeltine.

“We were told two days before that we were playing together and that gave us no time to work together and prepare,” Mickelson said, adding, “That’s an example, starting with the captain, that put us in a position to fail and we failed monumentally, absolutely.”

Mickelson apologized publicly to Sutton on Thursday.

Based on that controversy, it will be interesting to see if Mickelson and Fowler can focus, hit fairways and makes putts.

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In response to rumors that Danny Willett would only be a distraction to the European team due to his brother’s distasteful comments about Americans, Clarke said the 2016 Masters winner would play in the afternoon on Day 1.

Friday’s morning matches will set the tone for the entire weekend and alternate shot is a very difficult format.

Hazeltine will be played at 7,628 yards on a very challenging, undulated course. Accuracy off the tee and making putts is crucial.

Friday’s morning foursome matches were announced during the opening ceremony on Thursday:

7:35 a.m.: Reed and Spieth vs. Rose and Stenson

7:50 a.m.: Mickelson and Fowler vs. McIlroy and Sullivan

8:05 a.m.: Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker vs. Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia

8:20 a.m.: Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar against Thomas Pieters and Lee Westwood

JB Holmes, Brooks Koepka, Ryan Moore and Brendt Snedeker will not play in the morning session for the Americans, while Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitpatrick, Willett and Chris Wood will sit out for the Europeans.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori


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