BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Hal Sutton doesn't want anyone to read anything into his pairings during the practice rounds at the Ryder Cup, and that's a good thing.
Otherwise, one could only guess that Phil Mickelson will be riding the bench until Sunday.
Mickelson caused the biggest stir Wednesday at Oakland Hills by taking the day off from practice, an unusual decision that left everyone to wonder if American unity already was on life support.
Then again, the show of individualism fits in with everything Sutton has been preaching.
''Worry about yourself,'' Sutton said. ''If I get you to worry about you, and I get the best out of you, then it will come together as a team effort that could be brilliant.''
The best illustration is the rare tack Sutton is taking this week.
Captains usually have a good idea about teams midway through the week and start putting those players together during practice so they can get comfortable with each other.
Sutton is keeping his guys in the dark. From the time his 12-man team was finalized on Aug. 16 until sometime before opening ceremonies Thursday, the American players will not get the slightest hint whom their partners will be.
And Sutton's pairings during the practice rounds don't offer much of a clue.
Tiger Woods played Tuesday with Jim Furyk, Chris Riley and Chad Campbell, all of whom have been linked as possible partners. The next day, Woods went off in a twosome with Ryder Cup rookie Chris DiMarco. Bringing up the rear was a fivesome -- another Ryder Cup rarity -- of Davis Love III, Jay Haas, Fred Funk, Campbell and Furyk.
''I told them I wasn't going to set the pairings for the practice rounds,'' Sutton said. ''Be prepared to beat the other two guys by yourself, and if I give you a little help, that's a bonus. So they have no clue who they're going to play with. If they know who it is, they start worrying about their partner's game instead of worrying about their own game.''
Sutton said his lineup for the opening round is set. He will let the players know during the final day of practice, and some teams -- Woods and Mickelson, perhaps? -- could play together for the first time Friday morning.
''There's been a lot of people talking about who they are comfortable with, and who they are not comfortable with,'' Sutton said. ''I'm going to tell them tomorrow who they're going to be comfortable with playing.''
It was just another example of how Sutton has made it clear this is his team, he will do things his way and he is prepared to take the criticism if it goes awry.
Then again, he has nothing to lose, because the Americans don't have the Ryder Cup.
Previous captains have tried to match up games and personalities, friends and rivals, even the best two players on the team. No matter. The results have been the same.
The United States has won the team portion of the Ryder Cup -- two rounds of alternate-shot and better-ball each of the first two days -- just once in the last nine matches.
''This is certainly a different strategy, something I've never experienced,'' Woods said. ''I think it's refreshing. We go out there and prepare like we always do for each and every tournament, and they when your name is called, you go out there and try to get a point.''
Woods was given that freedom to stick to his routine at The Belfry in 2002, when he angered the British media and public for playing his practice round before the gates were opened, just like he does at the majors.
And that's why none of Mickelson's teammates were disturbed when he took the day off.
''Three practice rounds ... you hardly ever see the top players do that at a Masters or a U.S. Open or an Open championship,'' Davis Love III said. ''Phil, that's a normal routine for him to skip Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday completely. I think captains are learning we need to prepare as individuals and do our own thing.''
Mickelson was the first player at Oakland Hills on Monday, and he took nearly seven hours to play 18 holes by himself. He filled his yardage book with notes on every hole, and had a caddie place six tiny flags around the green, chipping to each spot from bunkers and rough.
''Phil Mickelson taking the day off was the best thing for him to do, and I admire that,'' Stewart Cink said.
European captain Bernhard Langer took the more traditional route.
''As a player, I know that sooner or later you would like to have some idea who you might be playing (with), or if you're playing at all,'' Langer said. ''And I will let them know as time gets closer to making a decision.''
One look at his pairings during Wednesday's practice round made it clear what he was thinking.
Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia (3-1 as a team at The Belfry), and Luke Donald and Paul Casey (Walker Cup teammates) played as better-ball teams for nine holes. Then, the Europeans switched to the alternate-shot format on the back nine, with Westwood teamed with Darren Clarke and Garcia playing with Donald.
''Obviously, there's a bit of thought that went into it,'' Langer said.
The only thought Sutton has is winning, and that means getting off to a strong start. Last time at The Belfry, the Europeans got off to a 3-1 lead after the first session. In fact, Europe has led or tied after the opening set of matches the last five times.
''It's extremely important to get off to a great start,'' Sutton said. ''I think when we announce our pairings, you'll see that's weighed heavily on my mind. I'll put out the guys that I think can get it done.''
Only then will 12 individuals start playing like a team.
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