In this Ryder Cup day one verdict, we look at the European Team captain Thomas Bjorn to see if his tactics were right
When the first set of Ryder Cup pairings were announced on Thursday afternoon, it was clear Thomas Bjorn was going to play all of his five rookies on day one. In recent years this has become the accepted wisdom – and for good reason. To win the Ryder Cup, you need all 12 players to contribute. Hiding less experienced or lower ranking players simply isn’t the way to do it anymore.
Darren Clarke chose not to play all of his rookies on the opening day at Hazeltine in 2016 and it ultimately backfired. This gives you less scope to see who is playing well and rising to the occasion heading into day two. It can also harm the dynamic within your team room.
Given that Bjorn clearly wanted to blood all five of his rookies it was no surprise to see him play Olesen in the morning fourballs where the pressure isn’t as great as in the foursomes. Placing him alongside the second highest ranked player on the European team also made sense. Bjorn was giving his fellow Dane the best possible chance to get over the Ryder Cup nerves and feel his way into the tournament. What he wasn’t banking on was the form of McIlroy. If we learnt one thing from Hazeltine in 2016 it was that if you want to win the Ryder Cup, your leading stars have to perform. McIlroy’s poor form on the first morning was a body blow not only to the scoreline but to his inexperienced partner, Thorbjorn Olesen. Sadly for the Dane, he may well not be called upon until the final day singles despite playing solidly on day one – we shall see. The Ryder Cup can be a cruel mistress.
By pairing Casey with Hatton and Fleetwood with Molinari, Bjorn created some strong European pairings that performed well. The latter delivered the crucial, solitary European morning point and took down the star US pairing of Spieth and Thomas in the afternoon. They could be a banker pairing for many Ryder Cups to come.
The biggest surprise pairing from Bjorn was to see Garcia team up with rookie Alex Noren. The Spaniard’s selection in the team was the one that raised more eyebrows than any other. Of his 15 PGA Tour starts this season, Garcia has missed eight cuts. Bjorn’s faith in Garcia however, clearly remained undiminished as he played him alongside the only rookie that sat out the morning matches. Noren however, proved himself to be incredibly calm and professional. Despite their relative Ryder Cup experience, it was the Swede who looked like the senior partner. This year’s French Open Champion was highly impressive and given the 5&4 margin of victory, he may well play twice on Saturday.
As ever, the importance of the captain at the Ryder Cup is hard to quantify. He should be able to rely on each of his players to compete well under the pressure and yet we all know that in the pairings, chemistry is everything. With the score standing at 5-3 overnight, the proof is there to see – Thomas Bjorn is off to a good start.