MEDINAH, Ill. -- Any notion the Ryder Cup is some friendly contest, a better version of a country club scramble, ended when Jose Maria Olazabal announced his first two pairings.
Rory McIlroy, the world's No. 1 player, and Graeme McDowell, who delivered the winning point at Celtic Manor two years ago, will start Europe off Friday morning at Medinah. Then comes Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, neither of whom has ever lost a foursomes match.
Win those two matches, and the Americans might never recover.
"We're trying to win points. Period. That's it," Olazabal said Thursday afternoon. "We have to go for it. We are playing away. The crowds are going to be on their side. They set up the course to their liking. So you have to make a bunch of birdies out there to win points. Just send the best players out there."
Fourballs will be played in the afternoon.
Ryder Cups are all about momentum, and the Europeans have had most of it for the last 15 years. They've won four of the last five meetings, and six of the last eight.
On paper, the Americans and Europeans are just about equal, two of the strongest teams in the event's 85-year history. All 24 players are among the top 35 in the world ranking, the first time that's happened. All 12 Americans were in the 30-man field at last week's Tour Championship, joined by five of the seven Europeans who were eligible. Europe has four major champions, and four players who have been No. 1 in the world.
But the Americans have the fans on their side, and the players are eager to feed off their enthusiasm. Any contest that invokes pride in country or continent is a rowdy affair, and there is nothing that gets American fans revved up more than athletes who wear U-S-A on their chest. (Or golf bags, in this case.)
"We need their energy to get us to play our best golf, and we need to play our best golf to beat a very tough European team," Phil Mickelson said.
Put a couple of quick blue points on the board, however, and that home field advantage disappears.
"Tomorrow's morning session is hugely important, and Jose Maria has stressed that," McDowell said. "We know they are all important, but we really feel that it is very important to make a fast start."
It doesn't start much faster than that first pairing. McIlroy is the hottest player on the planet, with three wins in his last five events, including his second major at the PGA Championship. He and McDowell, one of his closest friends on or off the course and a major champion himself, are 1-1-1 when paired together - though they did lose their only alternate-shot match in 2010.
They'll face Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk. Snedeker is one of the four U.S. rookies, and he talked the other day of needing to calm down because he was so excited for the Ryder Cup. But he's playing almost as well as McIlroy, and he's fresh off the biggest payday in golf with his two-fer last weekend in Atlanta: the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup titles.
"We weren't guessing who was going to be there. We were guessing what it was going to sound like, feel like and who could handle that the best," U.S. captain Davis Love III said. "And the more you get to know Brandt Snedeker, the more you'll understand why he's going off first."
Garcia, who missed the 2010 Ryder Cup while mired in a slump, is one of the best foursomes players in Ryder Cup history. He's 8-0-1, the one halve coming in 2008 when he was paired with Lee Westwood. He's 4-0 when paired with Donald in alternate-shot matches, and they've handled some of the best the U.S. could throw at them, including Furyk and Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson and David Toms.
They'll face Mickelson and rookie Keegan Bradley this time.
"It's not a pairing that surprises you because they play a lot of golf together and know each other very well," Donald said. "But we've had some success against Phil before, and hopefully we can again tomorrow."
The third pairing features Jason Dufner, another U.S. rookie, and Zach Johnson against Lee Westwood and Francisco Molinari. Love saved his best team for last, sending out Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods, who are 6-2 together in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. They'll face Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.
Poulter is 8-3 in the Ryder Cup, though two of those losses were to Woods in team matches. Both of those matches were fourballs, where Woods has a stronger record.
"We've had some pretty good success over the years, and we both have been playing well," Woods said. "Our captain said that would be a good fit, and he wanted us out there to anchor."
Both captains said all week the tough part would be figuring out who to leave out. Olazabal elected to bench Paul Lawrie, Martin Kaymer, Peter Hanson and Nicolas Colsaerts, the only rookie on Europe's side. Love sat out the pairing of Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson, and Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
"I won't make any predictions, but I can tell you this: I love my team and I love the pairings," Love said. "I love the plan we've got going, and I'm excited to watch them go play."