By Tony Jimenez
GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) - The U.S. will deserve to win the Ryder Cup if they can topple the formidable fourballs pairing of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia on Friday, according to Europe's most decorated captain Tony Jacklin.
The 70-year-old Englishman believes the new Northern Irish-Spanish combination, which takes on American powerhouses Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the opening-day fourballs, can turn into one of the most powerful partnerships of all time.
"If anyone beats Rory and Sergio they deserve to win the Ryder Cup," Jacklin told Reuters as he peered down the running order on a windswept driving range at Gleneagles.
"Those two have got to be one of the strongest pairings there has ever been. They can match Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal -- and they were the best."
The decision by Europe captain Paul McGinley to pair McIlroy with Garcia brings to an end, albeit perhaps temporarily, the Northern Irishman's partnership with his fellow countryman Graeme McDowell.
McIlroy and McDowell played together six times in 2010 and 2012, registering two wins, one half and three defeats.
"Rory's the world number one while Sergio is number three and a guy that rises to the occasion in Ryder Cups. He is in his absolute element in this environment," said Jacklin who led Europe to two wins and one tie in four matches in charge in the 1980s.
"If Phil and Keegan win it will be a huge scalp for U.S. captain Tom Watson and he will be able to capitalize on that."
Match one features Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson taking on Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson while Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer meet Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker in the second game.
Jacklin believes U.S. skipper Watson has taken a calculated risk by sending out rookies Jordan Spieth, 21, and Patrick Reed, 24, in match three against Scottish favorite Stephen Gallacher and European talisman Ian Poulter.
"Tom has taken a gamble with that one but it's the sort of gamble that's worth taking," said the winner of the 1969 British Open and 1970 U.S. Open.
"At the age Spieth and Reed are, you think you are immortal, bulletproof. Your confidence is never at a higher level than when you are in your early 20s," said the Florida-based Jacklin who is on a UK-wide theater tour until Oct. 16 (www.tonyjacklin.com/theatre-tour).
"Those two youngsters haven't yet had the knocks that life tends to throw at you so I think they'll be dangerous. I've watched Reed closely and he's someone who is sure of himself, just like Spieth is.
"That's what greatness is. Every great player is sure of himself and although these two haven't won a major championship yet, I don't see this is as a risk, I see it as a calculated gamble."
Veteran tour campaigner Gallacher, nephew of Jacklin's successor as captain Bernard Gallacher, is making his debut in the biennial team event at the age of 39.
"If he and Poulter can come out on top it will set the tone for the whole week as far as Europe are concerned," said Jacklin.
"I wasn't sure Captain McGinley would risk playing Gallacher this early in the competition but the fourballs is just the place to throw him in."
Running his eye down the four matches, Jacklin believes Europe will take a narrow lead into Friday's foursomes matches.
"I can't see Rose and Stenson getting beaten because they are a powerful pairing," he said.
"I think match two is too close to call but overall I like the way it looks for Europe."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)