Tiger Woods teed off in an electric atmosphere at his first Ryder Cup since 2012 on Friday as defending champions United States launched their quest for a first win on European soil in 25 years.
Woods, playing in his first Ryder Cup since 2012, is the star attraction in Friday’s morning fourballs.
Over 60,000 fans are expected to flock to Le Golf National, just outside Paris, for the first Ryder Cup held in France, where 14-time major champion Woods received a prolonged, rousing reception at the opening ceremony.
He will partner the talented, yet brash Patrick Reed in the anchor match of the opening session, which begins with an intriguing matchup pitting Justin Rose and Jon Rahm against Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau.
“It’s going to be fun for both of us. We’ve been looking forward to teaming up and doing something like this together,” said a reinvigorated Woods, coming off his first win in over five years at last week’s Tour Championship.
“We finally have our opportunity to go against two great competitors.”
An intimidating 6,900-capacity grandstand surrounds the first tee with scores more guaranteed to pack in tightly around the tee box to generate an intoxicating atmosphere.
“When I first saw that on the first tee, I looked up and felt like I kept looking up and up and up,” said Reed, who partnered a largely po-faced Woods in Thursday’s nine-hole practice round.
“It’s going to be an unbelievable atmosphere.”
Europe captain Thomas Bjorn has placed great faith in his rookies, calling upon four or his five Ryder Cup debutants straight out of the gate.
“When you look at this group of guys that’s come into this team, they are really hard competitors, and I believe in them so much,” said Bjorn.
“I wanted to give them that responsibility of standing up and go out there and enjoy it.”
– ‘Hit the fairway’ –
The 23-year-old Rahm, the youngest player in the competition, will look to set the tone alongside the seasoned Rose in what is his fifth Ryder Cup.
“Not many people get to play for a Ryder Cup in Europe with this stage setup and be in the first group outright,” said Spain’s Rahm.
“I just kind of hope one of us hits it in the fairway to start off the day.”
Veterans Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson — all captain’s picks — will sit out on Friday morning, but Bjorn insists their time will come.
“They are all difficult to leave out, especially guys that have played in so many,” said Bjorn. “I’m quite sure that you’ll see them on the golf course at some stage before Sunday.”
Rory McIlroy will take Danish rookie Thorbjorn Olesen under his wing in the second match of the day against world number one Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
Paul Casey is the lone European wildcard selection in action for the first session, with the 41-year-old taking on Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas alongside his fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton.
Woods and Reed — who played up to his “Captain America” nickname by cupping his ear in response to jeers on Thursday — will come up against British Open champion Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood.
For Woods it will be the latest instalment of his rivalry with Italian Molinari, after the pair faced off in singles at both the 2010 and 2012 events.
Molinari’s triumph at Carnoustie in July — the first men’s major win for Italy — came while playing alongside Woods, who had led with eight holes to go.
None of the pairings have played together before, and Fowler warned a poor start for either side could prove fatal.
“You’re not going to go win it in the first session, but you need to put yourself in a position where you’re not kind of behind the 8-ball and trying to play catch-up the rest of the way,” he said.