Pavin and Monty given much food for thought

US RYDER CUP captain Corey Pavin didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after surveying the leaderboard at the end of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.

He would have been thrilled to see the domination of numerous Americans, led by the highly impressive winner Hunter Mahan, who had Ryan Palmer, tied second; Bo Van Pelt and Sean O’Hair, tied fourth and Jim Furyk and Jeff Overton, tied sixth in his wake.

You needed to go down to eighth before you found the leading European, the Swede Peter Hanson, while Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy scraped into the top ten having shared ninth spot.

Mahan played himself into Pavin’s team with this victory while Furyk and Overton also confirmed their places in the side for Celtic Manor in October.

Van Pelt, O’Hair, Bubba Watson and Ryan Palmer also performed creditably to remind the captain of their talents. The automatic American top eight will be known Sunday night at the end of the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin. Those places are currently filled by Phil Mickelson, Mahan, Furyk, Steve Stricker, Overton, Anthony Kim, Matt Kuchar and Lucas Glover.

While Pavin will be happy with that scenario, he must be deeply concerned at the form of Tiger Woods and Mickelson. Woods’s fall from grace was never more emphatically demonstrated than by his hapless performance at Akron where he finished 18 over par with only the unwell Swede Henrik Stenson behind him.

So what does Pavin do? It’s a question which may be causing him sleepless nights. While it may seem a no-brainer to leave Tiger on the sidelines, the captain will be aware that Woods and Steve Stricker offer readymade foursomes/fourball partnerships. In the President’s Cup last year, they won all of their five matches together.

And can any European honestly claim that they would fancy taking on Woods in 18 holes of matchplay golf? I don’t think so.

Then there was the abysmal failure of Mickelson to take advantage of Woods’s woes in Akron.

With the world number one spot there for the taking, he collapsed completely, soaring to a 78 and a share of 46th.

Pavin will wait until the first week in September before announcing his four “wild card” picks.

Meanwhile, European counterpart Colin Montgomerie won’t have taken too much encouragement from the Bridgestone.

Lee Westwood’s continuing calf muscle injury makes him a doubtful starter for Celtic Manor and he would be a massive loss. He has a fine Ryder Cup record and was regarded as Monty’s likely “on-course leader”.

Moreover, there was little or no sign of certainties like Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer and Francesco Molinari near the business end of the tournament on Sunday evening.

The captain would also have dearly liked Harrington to have clinched his automatic place by now. Instead, he is marginally outside the top nine, a mere 13,246 points behind Miguel-Angel Jimenez for the last of the five spots in the European list. His second place in the Irish Open and another top ten finish in Akron have surely guaranteed Harrington’s place in the team and if he can find a few more fairways at Whistling Straits, he must be in with a fighting chance of a fourth Major come Sunday night.

The championship is of massive significance to Harrington, who desperately wants to have locked away the Ryder Cup spot by Sunday so that he can stick to his schedule of playing the Barclays Championship, the first event on the lucrative Fed-Ex Cup series on the US circuit rather than having to come home and take on the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles on the same week.

Montgomerie has warned those not sure of their places and who want to be at Celtic Manor that it would be in their best interests to play that latter tournament.

Harrington is one of five Irishmen in the field for the PGA. He is strongly supported by McIlroy, McDowell, Darren Clarke and Shane Lowry.

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