Mickelson expects Woods-Stricker pairing at Celtic Manor

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

NEWPORT, Wales (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson has given a strong indication that world number one Tiger Woods will be paired with Steve Stricker for Friday's opening fourball matches at the Ryder Cup.

United States captain Corey Pavin has so far kept his cards close to his chest with regard to likely pairings but he has sent out Woods and Stricker in the same group for the first two days of practice at Celtic Manor.

"I would be surprised to see those two split up," left-hander Mickelson told reporters on Wednesday.

"That pairing is extremely strong, it's one of our better ones and it's no hidden secret. Everyone seems to know it's a pairing that works well."

Woods and Stricker were unbeaten in four matches together against the Internationals at last year's Presidents Cup in San Francisco, prompting widespread speculation they would be reunited as a pair at Celtic Manor.

"Because of that record, I think that that partnership should not be split up," four-times major winner Mickelson said.

"Now, granted, that was on U.S. soil and it wasn't against Europe and now we are playing Europe on their home soil and it's going to be a much more difficult task."

Mickelson, a veteran of seven previous Ryder Cups, said he would enjoy playing alongside long-hitting American rookie Dustin Johnson in either the fourball or foursomes formats.

INCREDIBLE PARTNER

"When you put an iron or three-wood in his hands, he's going to start hitting 85 percent of the fairways. He would be a great partner for me either way."

Renowned for an aggressive approach to the game that has earned him the nickname 'Phil the Thrill', Mickelson relishes Celtic Manor's Twenty Ten course as a matchplay venue.

"It's a wonderful golf course," the 40-year-old said. "It's in terrific shape and the holes themselves have a lot of risk/reward, a lot of real big penalties if you miss-hit a shot and a lot of rewards if you pull off a shot."

Mickelson was particularly relishing the foursomes (or alternate-shot) format where he likes to attack at every opportunity.

"In fourball, you try to set it up so one guy can go for it and usually on my two-man team I'm the guy that's doing that," he said. "So it's a good opportunity for me to have a partner who can keep the ball in play.

"In foursomes, whether it's me or my partner, I want them going for it. I want them taking the risk and the challenge and if I don't pull it off, I want the opportunity to salvage par.

"I like that aggressive play in my partners and I certainly like it in myself," Mickelson added. "You have to let the bad shots go and try to make up for it on the last hole."

(Editing by Mitch Phillips)