INCHEON, South Korea (Reuters) - Danny Lee and Marc Leishman received the golfing equivalent of a ‘hospital pass’ on Wednesday after the International duo were served up to America’s world number one Jordan Spieth and big-hitting Dustin Johnson for the Presidents Cup foursomes.
Thursday’s opening foursomes, where players hit alternate shots with the same ball, also sees the Internationals’ 2013 pairing of Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama reunited to face Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes.
South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace are up against Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed and Asian pair Anirban Lahiri and Thongchai Jaidee play Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. Australian duo Jason Day and Steven Bowditch will take on Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson.
The Presidents Cup, which is played for every two years by the United States and a team of international players minus Europeans, continues on Friday and Saturday with foursome and four ball fixtures before 12 singles matches on Sunday.
The United States have been the dominant force in the Cup, winning eight of the 10 previous editions with one tie. Their only defeat came in 1998 at Royal Melbourne.
After U.S. captain Jay Haas and his International counterpart Nick Price decided the matchups, it was the pairing of Spieth and Johnson that had the media buzzing at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea.
Spieth, a captain’s pick two years ago, has blossomed into the world’s best player this year, claiming two majors among his five wins and ending the year with a flourish with victory at the Tour Championship last month.
Dustin Johnson returned to the Tour after taking time off in 2014 for personal reasons and had three top 10 finishes in the majors, including a heartbreaking near miss at the U.S. Open when a missed three-foot putt handed the title to Spieth.
Haas confirmed the pair had asked to be put together and shed some light on Spieth’s huge influence on the game.
“Jordan and Dustin, they have been wanting this for a while, wanting this pairing. And what Jordan wants, Jordan gets right now,” said Haas, adding that Reed had also been keen to partner up with Spieth.
“Patrick loves the match-play aspect of it and certainly wants Jordan at some time during the course of the matches. But again, we wanted to get Jordan what he wanted here early on and maybe that can happen down the road.”
Spieth, however, rejected the suggestion he had picked his playing partner.
“I didn’t pick DJ. I think Jay may have been joking earlier when I heard the quote that ‘whatever Jordan wants, he gets’.
“He was obviously joking. I certainly hope so, because I’d feel like a brat if that’s not the case.”
Spieth said he hoped his partnership with Johnson would extend throughout the event.
“I think everybody wants to play with DJ. He’s a fantastic player. He has as much talent as anybody in the game.
“I think our plan between he and I is to go out and take care of business tomorrow and then just ride that pairing. If we feel like there’s a need for a change, there are a few guys that we’ve been playing with who are both very comfortable if we need to split up.
“But ideally we just keep that team.”
Their opponents on Thursday, Lee and Leishman, have their work cut out for them.
Lee is ranked 36th in the world and has made the cut only once at a major, while Leishman, a spot below in the rankings, came close at the British Open this year, finishing tied for second behind Zach Johnson.
Lee, who was born in Korea but moved to New Zealand as a youngster, did not seem overly worried about playing in his first Presidents Cup with the world’s best player on the opposite team.
“It’s going to be fun. We played quite a bunch during this year,” he said of Spieth. “But it’s a team game, not a single game this week. I’m going to do my best to help the team.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty/Sudipto Ganguly