“Potential pairings, yes,” replied Rory McIlroy, who will be making his seventh successive appearance in the biennial event, in reply to being asked that question in the countdown to the eagerly-awaited clash at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club.
“It's foursomes, so there's a lot that goes into it, golf balls etc and all that stuff. I'm sure the 12 of us have a rough idea of how the Friday is going to go.”
Though he could still change his mind based on how the players perform on the three practice days, it seemed as though the groupings for the opening two rounds of last week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth indicated what Donald might have in mind.
McIlroy, for instance, was in the same group as FedEx Cup winner Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm played with Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood was paired with Shane Lowry and Matt Fitzptarick spent two days in the company of Justin Rose.
On paper, those are the eight strongest players at Donald’s disposal, though the former world No 1 is equally pleased to see Bob MacIntyre, Sepp Straka, Ludvig Aberg and Nicolai Hojgaard as his four rookies as Europe bid to win back the trophy after a 19-9 hammering at Whistling Straits two years ago.
Former Open champion Henrik Stenson had initially been named as Europe’s captain for this contest before Donald was parachuted in following the Swede’s decision to sign for LIV Golf. “I think he's been fantastic,” observed McIlroy of Donald’s leadership so far. “He took the job in very weird circumstances, I guess, but he's taken it in his stride and he's been fantastic with me. I'm sure he's had a lot more interaction with some of the rookies and the new guys that are on the team. I feel at this point I can take care of myself (smiling) a little bit.
“If you speak to everyone we've all been really pleased with the job him and all of his team have done so far; the vice-captains are a big part of it and Ryder Cup Europe with all the backroom staff and everyone involved. It's been great so far.”
McIlroy is a man on a mission in the Italian capital after a poor personal performance two years, when he was dropped for a session for the first time since making his debut under Colin Montgomerie’s captaincy at Celtic Manor in 2010, left him in tears at Whistling Straits.
Donald has already said he wants the world No 2 to lead with his clubs on this occasion and McIlroy said: “Yeah, he doesn't expect me to stand up there and make big speeches or say a lot of things but, if I can lead by example and be the first one to the team room for a meeting, first one on the bus on the way to the course; anything like that where even though it's my seventh Ryder Cup I'm still doing all the things that you should do and not getting complacent, that's the way I would like to lead if I'm asked to and, as Luke said, lead with my clubs and making birdies and getting blue on the board.”
While all 12 European team members teed up in the BMW PGA Championship - seven finished in the top ten in the Rolex Series event - most of the Americans have not played since the Tour Championship, which finished on 27 August.
“The Americans will certainly be well-rested,” noted McIlroy, who, in addition to his appearance at Wentworth, also played in the Horizon Irish Open at The K Club the previous week. “I don't think there's any substitute for being sharp and playing tournaments. The only thing is its match play and not strokeplay so it's a little bit different, but I don't think us playing a little bit more over these last few weeks is going to hurt us at all. If anything I would say it's certainly better for me.
“I wouldn't have liked to go into the Ryder Cup with my last start being the Tour Championship but that's personal preference. I like to play my way into the big events.”