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Clarke insists Danny Willett still has a big role to play, despite opening match omission

The Masters champion was at the heart of this week’s controversy.

RYDER CUP CAPTAINS Davis Love III and Darren Clarke explained their pairings for the opening matches this afternoon.

After countless hours of planning and strategising, the first pairings are on the board, with Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed to start things off against Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose at Hazeltine.

Clarke turned some heads when he decided to sit Masters champion Danny Willett in favour of Thomas Pieters, a 24-year-old Ryder Cup rookie.

Clarke said he was never set on one pairing, and he liked Lee Westwood’s experience mixed with Pieters’ exuberance.

“Lee Westwood is playing in his 10th Ryder Cup, so he’s a very experienced Ryder Cup player,” Clarke said.

“He’s also a very, very good player. And Thomas Pieters, this is his first Ryder Cup. So to balance the experience with one of the rookies is something that’s very important.

Obviously I know Lee’s game very, very well, because he’s been a great partner to me in many Ryder Cups. And Thomas Pieters is a very, very talented young man. So the pair of them, Thomas Pieters was one of my picks and to get him out with the most seasoned veteran on our team seemed like a bit of a natural pairing for me.”

As for Willett, his brother’s scathing comments about USA fans may have cost him, but Clarke assured everyone the 28-year-old Englishman may still play four times.

“Danny will play tomorrow afternoon and he may well play four times, and his last match could be – will be Sunday singles,” he said.

“So obviously instead of playing five times, he will be one match fresher and be able to play his fourth match [as] the singles.”

During his Thursday news conference, Love spoke about the excitement of his players, and in turn how that has affected him.


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Ryder Cup Golf Source: David J. Phillip

“I hopped on a cart and raced back up here [from the opening ceremony] with Dustin Johnson on the back and he immediately said, ‘I love these pairings.’ That’s what you want to hear from your players, that they are excited,” Love said.

“Darren said on the stage, we kind of knew what he was going to do with that first group, and guessed a little bit on the rest of them. But we just picked four of our best alternate-shot pairings, foursomes pairings, and lined them up in the best order we thought for getting started. So we’re excited about our four.”

Love said it was tough deciding which pairing would go first, but in the end he said he took advice from everyone on the team and went with the tandem he thought would best set the tone.

“Patrick Reed for the last six months, I mean, he’s just been talking so excited,” Love said.

“He’s ready to go and fired up. We just felt like that first tee atmosphere just fit him and Jordan to get it kicked off. We went a bunch of different directions, but I think all four of our teams are great, and we could have just thrown the cards up.”

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