This season will be remembered as the Year of Justin Thomas. Fitting, then, that the 24-year-old will kick off the festivities at Liberty National tonight, Australian time. The 12th Presidents Cup begins at 3:05 tomorrow morning, AEST. The United States has won the past six matches.

Captains Steve Stricker and Nick Price announced their pairings for tonight’s action at the 2017 Presidents Cup, which will be played in foursomes (alternate shot) format. In the first group, the Americans will send out Thomas and Rickie Fowler against the duo of Hideki Matsuyama and Charl Schwartzel.

Aside from the Thomas-Fowler combo, the United States is highlighted by Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, the supergroup that’s been effective for the US in past team events. Spieth and Reed will face Si Woo Kim and Emiliano Grillo, both rookies for the Internationals.

“It’s always difficult with the rookies because they have never been on a team before and trying to figure out who is going to play with who,” Price said. “Si Woo and Emiliano are two incredibly talented young players. They played well in the practice rounds.”

The matches are rounded out by Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar taking on Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas, Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger against Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace (who went a perfect 4-0 together two years ago in South Korea), and Phil Mickelson and Kevin Kisner joining forces to battle Jason Day and Marc Leishman.

Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman are on the sidelines for the US, which is not necessarily a surprise: both have been under the weather this week. For the Internationals, Adam Hadwin and Anirban Lahiri, both captain’s picks, will sit out the Thursday proceedings.

Though the groupings were mostly expected, there were a few items that caught our eye. Here are four observations regarding the first set of matches:

Spieth and Reed return

The US super couple, coming off a successful venture at the Ryder Cup, highlight the American pairings. While they played in four matches together at Hazeltine National, they made just one appearance at the 2015 Presidents Cup in Korea, disposing of Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel 3&2. Don’t expect that to be the case at Liberty National.

Spieth’s iron precision, combined with Reed’s short game, is a nightmare for opponents. That the Internationals are countering with two struggling novices – Kim and Grillo – looks like as guaranteed a point as you’ll see in this event. Throw in the rowdy New York metropolitan crowd – one which will certainly eat up Reed’s theatrics – envision plenty of fireworks for the red, white and blue from this combo on day one.

Internationals boast their own dynamic duo

The Internationals came oh-so-close to just their second victory in 2015 thanks to the efforts of Grace and Oosthuizen. The South African supergroup became the first International team in cup history to go 4-0 in Incheon. And their competition wasn’t the end of the bench: Grace and Oosthuizen made victims of Spieth, Johnson, Reed twice, Fowler, Kuchar and Bubba Watson.

Although the Internationals have more depth than ever, they remain heavy underdogs this week. To pull off the upset, the club will need Grace and Oosthuizen to replicate their ’15 magic. Luckily for them, Liberty National is conducive to their games. Not only does the Jersey property reward tee-shot accuracy and second-shot prowess, the green difficulty doesn’t exactly invoke visions of Augusta National. Good news, especially for Grace, who ranked 148th in strokes gained: putting this campaign.

Faith in Hideki

There’s an elephant in the International room: their top-ranked player, Hideki Matsuyama, is mirrored in a funk. After his Bridgestone win and US PGA Championship run, the Japanese star stumbled in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, missing the cut at the Northern Trust and finishing in the cellar at the no-cut BMW and Tour Championships. The reason for his ice bath? Look no further than the flatstick: in his past two appearances, Matsuyama finished dead last in strokes gained: putting.

Mentioned above, the dancefloors aren’t diabolical, which should alleviate some of Matsuyama’s woes. Alas, as is so often the case with the short game, the issue resides not on the course’s terrain, but in confidence.

That didn’t stop captain Price from slotting Matsuyama in the first group of the day, paired with Schwartzel to take on Fowler and Thomas. Clearly Price looks at Matsuyama as one that can set a positive tone for the Internationals. Matsuyama is too good a player to suffer a drought; don’t be surprised if Liberty National’s confines, Price’s conviction and the team format snaps him out of his slump.

Mickelson earns starting nod

This wasn’t necessarily a surprise: Chappell and Hoffman have been feeling off-colour this week. Not to say the call was undeserved; Mickelson earned a team-high 3.5 points in Korea, and enters with a bit of momentum from the FedEx Cup. The sport may be enjoying a youth metamorphosis, but Mickelson’s fight against Father Time continues to be a marvel. Golf, truly a game for all ages.

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