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Published: Thursday, 9/16/2004

Who's my partner, captain?


BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - The United States golfers won't learn until this morning the pairings that team captain Hal Sutton has in mind for tomorrow's opening matches of the Ryder Cup.

"There's been a lot of talk about who they are comfortable [playing] with and who they are not comfortable with," Sutton said yesterday. "It's all talk. I am going to tell them [this morning] who they are going to be comfortable playing with."

The U.S. players have arranged their own pairings during early-week practice rounds, because Sutton wanted them to focus on nothing but their own games as they learned about Oakland Hills Country Club.

"I've told them to worry about themselves, to get the best out of themselves, and then it will come together as a team effort that is brilliant," Sutton said.

"Let me use myself as an example. In 2002 I was not playing well when we got to the Ryder Cup. If you had told somebody that they were going to be paired with me early on, they would have thought, 'Oh my God, I'd better really be playing good because I might have to carry Hal.'

"So they had two things on their mind, not only their own game but me and my game. Well, I've taken half of that out of the equation. All our guys have to worry about is themselves."

That may be why Sutton, despite his insistence on the importance of bonding and team unity, seemed not to mind that team standout Phil Mickelson opted to skip yesterday's practice round. Mickelson did an early-morning interview session, then was on the grounds and in the team room for at least part of the day, but did not play. He did not mention his practice plan during his early interview, and was not available for comment later in the day.

"He told me this morning that he did not play on Wednesdays of majors and he thought this was a major and didn't want to change his routine," Sutton said. "I said, 'Absolutely, don't change your routine.'‚óŹ"

Sutton said other members of the team did not resent Mickelson's decision.

"Everybody is content. Everybody is laughing and joking and content with their game."

When pressed about whether he would allow other team members to skip today's practice, if they so desired, Sutton said: "Sure, if they feel like they need to do that. He's no different than anybody else. Just because he's Phil Mickelson and he's ranked No. 3 or 4 or whatever in the world, it's not that he can do something that the other guys can't do. We are all one team. We do it the same way. If [other players] need a pass, they'll get a pass."

European captain Bernhard Langer tried to stay out of it, but said, "I don't know any of my guys who would take a whole day off just before a big competition. But as far as this situation with Phil, I can't read their minds, I don't know what's going on, and I really don't care."

Langer paired his teams for yesterday's practice round and had them competing in matches against one another.

His pairings were Sergio Garcia-Luke Donald, Darren Clarke-Lee Westwood, Thomas Levet-Miguel Angel Jimenez, Padraig Harrington-Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie-Ian Poulter and Paul Casey-David Howell.

"Some of them will switch and some will not," Langer said. "Obviously there's a bit of thought that went into how they went out today, but I guess you'll find out Friday whether they're staying together."

He did say that the Garcia-Donald pairing is likely to survive for tomorrow morning's opening four-ball matches.

"I want them to win a point and I think they're capable of doing that," Langer said. "They are two great players and I think they like each other. They can do anything with a golf ball. I think they will be there for each other, encourage each other and go through thick or thin."

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