Ryder Cup fever moved up a notch today after the two captains announed their pairings for today’s first practice session. Europe’s Ian Woosnam and America’s Tom Lehman both went for the tried and trusted option – Woosnam reuniting some partnerships from previous Ryder Cups and Lehman opting to also show continuity by naming some pairings that were successful in the Presidents Cup last year.

Woosnam did cause something of a stir by pairing the Spanish duo of Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal together (the pair are not known to be close friends), but aside from this there were very few surprises. Wildcards Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke look set to continue their very productive partnership, while Colin Montgomerie and David Howell were also paired together.

Aside from these pairings Woosnam decided to group together compatriots, with Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson making a Swedish team, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley respresenting Ireland and Luke Donald and Paul Casey representing England. Casey and Donald have fond memories of playing together after winning the World Cup and performing well as a pair in the Walker Cup during their amateur days.

“This is probably the strongest team we’ve ever had,” declared a confident Woosnam.

“We’ve got twelve great players and it’s up to me to get the pairings right. I’m going to have to look at how everybody is playing and talk to the lads. It’s important to see how things go as there’s so many pairings I could use.”

US skipper Lehman chose to pair Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk together, after the world number one and two performed superbly in last season’s Presidents Cup against the Rest of the World team. David Toms and Chad Campbell have also been paired together as per that contest, along with Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco. Lehman’s wildcard picks, Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink, were paired with rookies Brett Wetterich and JJ Henry respectively, while the two other debutants – Zach Johnson and Vaughn Taylor – made up the final pairing.

At this very early stage the scene looks set for an emotional yet sporting few days. Several of the American players made a point of greeting Clarke as many of them had not seen him since the sad death of his wife last month. Clarke was greeted by a warm reception by the crowd and was embraced by Woods, who lost his father Earl to cancer earlier in the year.

RYDER CUP PRACTICE PAIRINGS

Europe

Group 1 – Colin Montgomerie and David Howell, Paul Casey and Luke Donald

Group 2 – Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia

Group 3 – Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington

USA

Group 1 – Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, Brett Wetterich and Scott Verplank

Group 2 – David Toms and Chad Campbell, Chris DiMarco and Phil Mickelson

Group 3 – Stewart Cink and JJ Henry, Vaughn Taylor and Zach Johnson