Thomas Bjorn throws debutants into the action at Ryder Cup

Phil Casey 11:01 28/09/2018
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Europe captain Thomas Bjorn pinned his hopes of a fast start on his rookies in the opening session of the 42nd Ryder Cup on Friday.

While experienced wild cards Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia were left on the sidelines, Bjorn opted to throw debutants Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton and Thorbjorn Olesen straight into the action at Le Golf National.

Justin Rose, who won £7.6million on Sunday by claiming the FedEx Cup title in Atlanta, partnered Stenson in the first match at Gleneagles in 2014 and at Hazeltine two years ago.

But the Olympic champion was handed a new partner in Rahm for Friday’s opening fourballs contest as Europe looked to regain the trophy and maintain an unbeaten record on home soil which stretches back to 1993.

Rose and Rahm were up against three-time major winner Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, with Rory McIlroy and Olesen facing world number one Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler in match two.

The all-English pairing of Paul Casey and Hatton then had the daunting task of taking on Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, with Fleetwood and Open champion Francesco Molinari having an equally tough task against ‘Captain America’ Patrick Reed and a rejuvenated Tiger Woods.

Europe crucially lost the opening session 4-0 on their way to defeat at Hazeltine in 2016, but Bjorn does not feel his selections represent any sort of a gamble.

“I think I ran into one of these problems that everyone says is a positive problem; that everyone is playing well and everyone is feeling good,” Bjorn said.

“They have been just itching to go, especially Thorbjorn and Jon and Tyrrell, they are just really desperate to get out on that golf course. I wanted to get them out there.

“Tommy is a different guy in the way that he’s won around here [2017 French Open] and he’s been real quality for the last couple of years. He’s very calm and relaxed. He and Francesco are great together and they feel really comfortable and good.

“This is what we go with Friday morning, and it’s a marathon. It really is. I just believe very much in this team. I believe in them as a group. I believe in them as individuals, and I just really felt like this was what I saw.”

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Europe captain Thomas Bjorn putting his faith in Ryder Cup rookies to deliver

Phil Casey 23:22 27/09/2018
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Europe captain Thomas Bjorn will tell his players to seize their opportunity to become legends after putting his faith in his Ryder Cup rookies.

While world number two Justin Rose will lead from the front for the third contest in succession, there was no place for European talisman Ian Poulter or fellow veteran wild cards Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson in Friday’s opening session.

Each of Bjorn’s pairs featured a rookie alongside an experienced player, with Rose partnering Spain’s Jon Rahm against three-time major winner Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, with Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen facing world number one Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler in match two.

The all-English pairing of Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton then have the daunting task of taking on Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, with Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari having an equally tough task against ‘Captain America’ Patrick Reed and a rejuvenated Tiger Woods.

“I believe in them one through 12 and it really is a team effort this week,” Bjorn said. “This is what we go with Friday morning, and it’s a marathon. It really is. I just believe very much in this team. I believe in them as a group. I believe in them as individuals, and I just really felt like this was what I saw.

“This is an opportunity to stand up and follow in the footsteps of all the great players of this continent, and that’s the opportunity they have.

“Some of them have a long-standing Ryder Cup career and history with this event, and some of them are just setting out on a new chapter in their lives. But for all of them, it’s an opportunity to add to what their golf career is about.

“I’ve always said one thing about the game of golf: players are counted for what they do in the greatest events in the world. But legends are made in this event.

“That is where the public comes around them and can do so much for their careers. It’s an opportunity to go out there and be the best that you can be on a grand stage.”

Woods claimed the Tour Championship on Sunday for his first tournament win since August 2013 and his 80th PGA Tour title.

The 42-year-old languished as low as 1,199 in golf’s world rankings less than a year ago following spinal fusion surgery, but completed a remarkable comeback at East Lake.

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Woods has been on the winning side just once in seven previous appearances and has lost 17 of his 33 matches, a stark contrast to the record of Poulter, who has won 13 points from his 18 matches.

“They are all difficult to leave out, especially guys that have played in so many,” Bjorn added. “They fall into the group like anybody else, they know what they are and what they represent and it’s all about building for the whole week.

“I had some guys that are really, really keen on getting out on the golf course, and they have never been here before. I felt like it was really important to get them out there because I believe in them and I trust them.”

United States captain Jim Furyk said “chemistry” between Reed and Woods had been the key to their pairing, which saw the successful partnership of Reed and Spieth broken up.

Asked what would make him nervous when play finally gets under way on Friday, Furyk said: “If they showed up with a different frame of mind. That would make me nervous. I have seen some ‘Oh, s***’ faces in the Ryder Cup, I’ll say that.

“I’m sure I’ve had a couple myself. Yeah, that would make me nervous. I don’t expect that to happen.”

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Thorbjorn Olesen reflects on incredible journey to Ryder Cup

Carl Markham 13:42 27/09/2018
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Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen has gone from Thomas Bjorn’s buggy driver at Hazeltine to being one of the Ryder Cup captain’s rookies in the space of two years.

The 28-year-old has a close friendship with his fellow Dane and, partly as a result, he was invited to the 2016 event in America where he shadowed Bjorn, then a vice-captain.

It gave him important first-hand experience of what the Ryder Cup is about and means he will not go into the event at Le Golf National totally blind.

“First of all, it’s the toughest job I’ve ever had, for sure. Driving Thomas’s buggy was difficult. He was very demanding, so I was running around,” said Olesen.

“I definitely had to go into the clubhouse to get coffees more than a few times and it was really difficult to get from the course into the clubhouse, especially in a European cart.

“It didn’t make it easier to drive back and forth, and with quite a lot of people, also.

“It was a great experience for me, seeing behind the scenes, seeing what the captains do, vice-captains, realise how tough of a job they actually have to pick the teams.

“Standing on the first tee, seeing all that, I think is a good experience, and I think it can only help me for this week.”

Despite his inside-the-ropes access, Olesen admits nothing can properly prepare him for actually playing in the event.

“I think when you get on the first tee you always have that little bit of nerves and I think that’s a good feeling to have,” he added.

“Every tournament you tee it up in the first round on the first hole, I always get that nerve.

“I’m sure it’s going to be very different this week, but, like I said, I enjoy being nervous. I think that’s a great feeling.”

Olsen secured his automatic place at the Made in Denmark event, the final qualifying tournament, having won the Italian Open and had five other top 10 finishes on the European Tour.

It ensured Bjorn avoided having to make a difficult decision about whether to select his friend and protege as a wildcard.

“Ever since I got on the European Tour Thomas sort of took me under his wing and was a little bit of a mentor for me” added Olesen.

“We got really close friends and have done a lot of different stuff together, spent a lot of time off the golf course, not about golf.

“So obviously two years ago when he got an announced captain it was definitely a big goal for me to try to achieve this and be a part of this team.

“I’m really proud of myself of the way I handled things this summer and kept on going.

“It meant the world that I could qualify straight in. It would have been a really tough decision for Thomas if it wasn’t, because there was so many great players being outside.

“I wouldn’t know if I wouldn’t have qualified if I would have got the pick or not.

“It makes me feel better making the team. I feel more confident. I think it made it easier.”

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