By Mark Lamport-Stokes

NEWPORT, Wales (Reuters) - After three days of practice the 38th Ryder Cup is set to start at a damp Celtic Manor where holders the United States face an uphill task as they bid to win on European soil for the first time in 17 years.

Under the captaincy of Colin Montgomerie, Europe field one of their strongest teams and have extra motivation this year after losing the trophy to the Americans at Valhalla in 2008.

The Europeans also have home advantage, although Montgomerie has opted not to 'trick up' the Twenty Ten course in the way that other Ryder Cup captains have in the past.

"I haven't played around with the golf course at all," the 47-year-old Scot told reporters in the build-up to Friday morning's opening fourball matches.

"This golf course is set up in a very, very fair manner to allow the best team to win."

His U.S. counterpart Pavin agreed.

"It's set up very fairly," the 50-year-old American said. "It's going to reward good play, and shots that are off the fairway in this rough, you're going to be penalized.

"It kind of reminds me a lot of the way the U.S. PGA Championship is set up. It's very fair. How you play is what you're going to get out of it."


The biggest factor is likely to be the damp, tangly rough at Celtic Manor, which American world number five Jim Furyk says is the thickest and longest he has ever seen.

"It's as difficult as I've ever seen in my career," the 2003 U.S. Open champion said. "Length (off the tee) is great, but if you can't put it in play here, it's not so good.

"But the fairways are amply wide. They are big enough, but you sure don't want to miss one."

Fans are in for a treat when the opening fourball matches get underway on Friday morning, once the forecast fog lifts.

British world number three Lee Westwood and U.S. PGA champion Martin Kaymer will take on second-ranked Phil Mickelson and big-hitting Dustin Johnson in a mouth-watering opening encounter.

The first tee at Celtic Manor is flanked by grandstands that can accommodate 2,000 spectators and the atmosphere will be electric when the first group sets off.

"It will be a great game and the atmosphere on the first tee will be remarkable," Montgomerie said.

World number one Tiger Woods, after a mediocre year by his standards, has been held back until the third match when he and Steve Stricker will take on Britain's Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.


"Tiger and Stricker -- if ever there was a match you are going to want to play in, it is against their best two players," Poulter said. "The roar on that first tee will be sensational.

Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, a widely expected partnership, come up against former British Open champion Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar in the second match.

In the final fourball, Britain's Luke Donald and Irishman Padraig Harrington take on U.S. rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton.

Pavin accepts his team face a daunting task in their bid to land Ryder Cup honours in Europe for the time since 1993, when he was on the American team.

"It's a different story playing overseas," he said. "The teams themselves are very comparable but, given the advantage of playing in Europe, that gives the edge to the Europeans," he said.

Irishman Padraig Harrington, playing in his sixth Ryder Cup this week, agreed.

"The teams are so evenly balanced that a lot is going to come down to the quality of the decisions from the captain," the three-times major winner said.

"The decisions he makes in regard to partnerships, who to play, who to drop, when to rest guys, that's going to be crucial to how the team performs."

(Editing by Mitch Phillips; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)