COLIN MONTGOMERIE can breathe a little easier after Paul Casey’s strong but fruitless bid to capture the BMW Championship in Chicago on Sunday.
He came in a shot behind Dustin Johnson and has moved up two places in the world rankings to seventh. But the Scot will still be left with egg all over his face should Casey win the US Tour Championship on Sunday week and with it the lucrative FedEx Cup title as well.
Irrespective of the merits of his three picks for Celtic Manor, Monty must be questioning the wisdom of omitting a player who was ranked ninth in the world on the day he made his decision, and set to steal the biggest monetary prize of all from the Americans should he prevail at East Lake, Atlanta, in 12 days’ time.
Casey is the fifth of five (led by Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Charley Hoffman and Steve Stricker) who can claim the FedEx Cup by winning The Tour Championship no matter what anyone else does.
It could be argued the Englishman lost his chance at Cog Hill on Sunday when he led by three with six to play only to run up a hat-trick of bogeys and allow Dustin Johnson in for a worthy victory. But Casey’s form is in direct contrast to one or two Europeans who have done little or nothing of late and whose fitness and form are open to serious question.
For now, Casey is keeping his powder dry. Asked if it provided motivation for him in the FedEx play-offs, he replied: “Yes”.
Pressed to expand, he said: “No, I can’t go there unfortunately.”
However, when the dust has settled on Celtic Manor, you doubt if that will remain the situation for very long.
Nor will it have escaped the notice of the European think tank that a number of American team members are hitting form at the right time. Not only are Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker among the top five headed for Atlanta but there will be six other members of Corey Pavin’s team: Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson and Jeff Overton.
The odd men out are picks Rickie Fowler, Stewart Cink and Tiger Woods, who is clinging on to the world number one spot by the skin of his teeth and will give it up should Mickelson produce a decent performance at East Lake.
It’s the first time Woods has missed out on a PGA Tour event for which he was eligible but with the Ryder Cup in mind, he said: “I can practice at home with my coach Sean Foley in peace and put some work in on my short game and my putting, things I’ve not been able to do out here.”
The only European team member headed for East Lake is Luke Donald, currently seventh in the FedEx Cup rankings, while Justin Rose, another overlooked by Montgomerie, is 13th. Rory McIlroy finished 36th, six places too many, having fallen eight over par after 36 holes in the BMW.
Encouragingly, though, he fought back well over the weekend with rounds of 68 and 69 and hopefully that will boost his morale as he takes two weeks off before Celtic Manor.
Ian Poulter will be even more disappointed at coming 39th in the FedEx standings (T13 in the BMW) for he was poised for a comfortable top-30 FedEx finish until taking a triple-bogey eight at the 11th on Sunday.
Nevertheless, things are far from bleak on the European front, largely because those who prefer to ply their trade on the home circuit are doing very nicely. Martin Kaymer’s victory in Holland at the weekend, coming on the back of his magnificent major breakthrough in the US PGA, sends him to Celtic Manor on the crest of a wave and the German is set to be a key player for Europe. You can easily imagine him leading the side out in the singles and putting blue figures on the board while he has already hinted he sees McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Donald as his preferred foursome/fourball partners.
Kaymer’s Dutch victory was the fifth in a row by a European team member after Miguel-Angel Jimenez in the European Masters, Peter Hanson in the Czech Republic, Edoardo Molinari in the Johnnie Walker Championship, and the German’s own US PGA win.
Ross Fisher’s victory in the 3 Irish Open at the beginning of August further boosts morale while Francesco Molinari, eighth, and Fisher, 11th, also showed form in Holland.
The negatives remain the uncertainty concerning the fitness of Lee Westwood, who hasn’t played for more than a month because of a calf injury, and the form of Irish pair Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell. After missing out on the second half of the FedEx Cup play-off series, Harrington, down to 22nd in the world, has a two-week break before partnering his brother Fergal in the Vivendi Cup in Paris next week.
McDowell returns in this week’s Austrian Open after a month off but Westwood is not due to compete until the Ryder Cup if, indeed, he will be in Celtic Manor at all.
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