COLIN MONTGOMERIE last night heaped praise on Pádraig Harrington and hit back at those who criticised his decision to grant the three-time major winner a wild card Ryder Cup spot.
The European captain has rarely been seen in a more relaxed mood and while he has tried to dispel notions of complacency in his squad, the bookmakers have made Europe 1/7 favourites to regain the trophy as they carry a three point advantage into today’s singles.
They need just five points and naturally there is a huge weight of expectation on Monty’s side. Nevertheless, unless the unforeseen happens today, Monty will have won the duel of the captains hands down.
There was an example of Corey Pavin’s ineptitude last night when an American colleague, attempting to lift the spirits of the US skipper, reminded him of Ben Crenshaw’s “I have a feeling comment” prior to their magnificent recovery from 10-6 arrears at Brookline in 1999.
“That was Ben, this is me”, was Pavin’s response. The American journalist saw it as a case of Pavin waving the white flag.
To compound matters, Pavin went and picked Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson close to the bottom of his singles order. When Montgomerie was asked if he would have played the game’s number one and two players at 8th and 10th in the session, he smiled and replied: “I’m trying to be as diplomatic as possible throughout this week. It does surprise me but at the same time, it is a very, very strong American line-up. The job has not been done yet.”
Asked to explain why he had paired rookie Ross Fisher with Harrington, Monty’s demeanour visibly hardened. “I just felt Pádraig would play better and that his partner, whoever he might be, would play better if Pádraig was the leader of that particular group. I think Ross played fantastically well. There’s a reason why Ross played fantastically well – because he had a player of Pádraig’s stature with him.
“I played well with Faldo. I played well with Langer. There was a reason for that – because I was with them. That’s why the pairing was put together.
“Pádraig was under pressure here, no question. He lost his first match. You (the media) had given him a hard time. He’s been given a hard time by being selected here. Hopefully, you’ll realise now why he was selected. There’s been method in why I selected Pádraig Harrington for this team. He spoke brilliantly in the team room Saturday night. He’s been brilliant off the course. And he’s been brilliant on it.”
Many will fear that Montgomerie is asking too much of Rory McIlroy to play the second match today (he comes up against Stewart Cink, the 2009 Open champion), all the more so because of the tyro’s unfortunate choice of words in describing this event as an “exhibition” two years ago.
Once again, though, the Europe captain backed his man. “Rory is very young and very talented and I think he now realises this is a very different ball game. I’m just glad that Rory, whatever happens, will talk about the Ryder Cup in a very different light.”
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