Golf-Rahm and Garcia to spearhead Europe Ryder Cup defence


Golf - The 2020 Ryder Cup - Whistling Straits, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, U.S. - September 23, 2021 Team Europe captain Padraig Harrington and Team USA captain Steve Stricker shake hands as host Rob Riggle looks on during the opening ceremony REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

KOHLER, Wisconsin (Reuters) -World number one Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia were chosen on Thursday to spearhead Europe's Ryder Cup defence with captain Padraig Harrington sending out the Spanish duo in the opening foursomes to face Americans Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.

In a clear indication Europe will try to grab the early momentum, Harrington turned to two of his big guns in U.S. Open champion Rahm and Garcia, the record Ryder Cup points scorer, to play world number six Thomas and a resurgent Spieth, who is once again showing the form that won him three major titles.

"The team that goes out there and gets a lead will say, momentum is everything, and the team that doesn't will have to find another way," said Harrington. "So in a perfect world, you would like to go out there and win the session, win it well and lead from the front and keep going."

Friday's matches at the Whistling Straits course in Wisconsin will mark the end of a long wait for the 43rd Ryder Cup, which has been delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second match out will pit the U.S. partnership of former world number one Dustin Johnson and British Open champion Collin Morikawa against Briton Paul Casey and Norwegian Ryder Cup debutant Viktor Hovland.

The British pairing of Lee Westwood, playing in a record- equalling 11th Ryder Cup, and Matt Fitzpatrick will take on big-hitting American Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger.

The last match of the first session could be the most explosive with the fiery pairing of Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy and the "Postman" Ian Poulter taking on two American young guns, Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele and the in-form Patrick Cantlay, coming off a win at the Tour championship.

"It's almost been a decade that Poults and I have been playing in this thing, all the way back to 2012," said McIlroy. "We've put points on the board for Europe which is really important but we've also had a lot of fun doing it.

"So we are going to go out there this week and enjoy ourselves and play our absolute hearts out."

Harrington said he had thought of putting Rahm and Garcia together for some time and it was something the two Spaniards wanted.

The duo were almost instantly dubbed the new "Spanish Armada" following on in the Ryder Cup from the legendary pairing of former greats Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.

"It's a big honour," said Rahm. "It means the captain has faith in me and who I'm partnered with.

"Spanish legacy is deep in The Ryder Cup and I'm hoping we can start a new tradition."

While Rahm and Garcia are a new partnership, U.S. captain Steve Stricker stuck with some pairings that have had success in the past.

Spieth and Thomas played together at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris and went 3-1, while Cantlay and Schauffele were teammed together at the 2019 Presidents Cup and had a 2-2 record.

"I feel great about our pairings," said Stricker. "Some teams that have played together over the years, whether in Ryder Cups or some Presidents Cups, so we wouldn't put them out there if we didn't feel good about them, let me just put it that way."

(Reporting by Steve Keating, Editing by Ed Osmond and Richard Pullin)

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