Ryder Cup-winning captain Colin Montgomerie is praying European successor Darren Clarke has got his wild card picks right as his team goes into the lion’s den against favourites United States at Hazeltine later this month.
Clarke, a five-time Ryder Cup player and four-time winner, was handed five rookies in his team among the nine automatic qualifiers to defend Europe’s crown for a third successive time in the biennial matchplay tussle with the Americans, starting September 30.
He used two of his three captain’s picks to bring the experienced Lee Westwood and two-time major champion Martin Kaymer, but for his third and final pick went with another rookie in Belgium’s Thomas Pieters.
By selecting the 24-year-old, the 2011 Open champion ignored the claims of fellow Irishman Shane Lowry, this year’s US Open runner-up, and Scotland’s Russell Knox, who would have been next in line.
Sky Sports golf analyst Montgomerie, who appointed Clarke as one of his vice- captains in 2010, when the Scot regained the cup for Europe at Celtic Manor, said he sympathised with Lowry and Knox but hoped Pieters would justify the faith placed on his shoulders by the captain.
“It was out of leftfield, I suppose,” Montgomerie said of Pieters’ wildcard selection. “It happened very, very quickly, the way Thomas finished second and then first in the last weeks of qualifying. That doesn’t hurt. I did something similar with Edoardo Molinari, you know. He won the last event and I couldn’t really leave him out.
“It is a shame, I feel for Shane Lowry, I feel for Russell Knox, I feel for the others, I always feel for people that don’t make it that feel they have a (claim).
“It is pro-European in that (Pieters) is a guy that plays mostly on the European Tour. We’ll just have to wait and see and let’s hope that Darren’s made the right call and that when Thomas Pieters goes out, he brings in points. It all depends on results, at the end of the day.”
There are few more immersed in the Ryder Cup than Montgomerie, who as a player represented Europe in the event eight times and contributed 23.5 points to the cause, with a 65% success rate. As captain, he got the better of Corey Pavin at Celtic Manor.
And while he likes the current US skipper Davis Love III’s decision to delay the naming of his picks until after Clarke named his, Montgomerie is concerned that his final wild card will not be dealt until September 25, five days before the event tees off.
Love, whose eight automatic qualifiers included only one rookie in Brooks Koepka, named Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, and JB Holmes as his first three picks on Monday, omitting two-time Masters champions Bubba Watson, describing that as a big call.
“Picking JB Holmes ahead of Bubba, he’s not in now but he might well be. But he’ll be Davis’s fourth pick, his last pick and that’s a very difficult thing to be,” said Montgomerie.
“If you’re picked (together) you’re one of three or one of four but now he’ll be very much number four and that’s a difficult position for anybody to be in, whether it’s Bubba or anybody.
It’s a big call. Bubba Watson’s seventh in the world and that’s a big call but he’s not out yet. I think it’s all down to East Lake (and the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship starting September 22) and whoever wins between Justin Thomas and Bubba seems to be getting the nod. That seems to be the way they’re going and Davis has some leeway there because even if Justin Thomas is picked that’s only the second rookie, so he’s in a stronger place than Darren having rookies to pick.
“So, yes, it’s a big call ... what it will mean for Bubba’s psychology if he does play, knowing that he’s very much the 12th man in the team.”
Sky Sports Ryder Cup’ will be the exclusive home of the competition from 26 September.
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