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Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker anchor morning alternate-shot matches for Team USA

Tiger Woods U.S. teammate Phil Mickelsslap hands as they leave stage after opening ceremony Medinah. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Tiger Woods and U.S. teammate Phil Mickelson slap hands as they leave the stage after the opening ceremony at Medinah. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 29, 2012 7:04AM

Now it’s here. After a seemingly interminable buildup, the first Ryder Cup matches will be played at Medinah on Friday morning.

And it looks as if the Americans are going to have to play some seriously good golf to avoid falling behind after the quartet of alternate-shot matches that will start this competition.

In the opening match, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who’s 4-2-2 in Ryder matches, will be a handful for steady Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker who’s hot but uncertain as a Ryder rookie.

“We’re not hiding anything,’’ European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said. “Just send the best players out there and see if they can perform.’’

The Euros also rate the edge in the second match, where Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, who are 4-0 as partners, will take on Phil Mickelson, who has underachieved in Ryder matches, and energetic rookie Keegan Bradley.

“We didn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out what they were going to do,’’ Love said. “We had a tough decision. It wasn’t who to send out. It was who to sit down.’’

If Team USA falls behind, that could put a lot of heat on the third team, rookie Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, who’s 2-1 in Ryder matches, in a swing match against Lee Westwoo and Francesco Molinari.

Team USA captain Davis Love III is counting on his anchor ­pairing, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, to close strong against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.

“Strick and I are very comfortable together,’’ said Woods, who is 6-2 with Stricker in Ryder Cup (2-1) and President’s Cup (4-1) matches. “We’ve had some pretty good success, and we’ve both been playing well [lately]. Our captain said he wanted us to anchor. We’ve got a great matchup in Rose and Poults.’’

Love, who seems to have a working plan in place that’s subject to tweaking, seems inclined to send his four remaining players — Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson — out in the afternoon, to let them get their feet wet. Olazabal doesn’t seem to have that kind of depth.

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