Monty makes Pádraig top man

EUROPEAN Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie has given his most emphatic endorsement yet concerning Pádraig Harrington’s inclusion in his side to face the Americans in this week’s Ryder Cup.

Vice-captain Paul McGinley, who walked all 18 holes with his fellow Dubliner on yesterday’s opening practice day, was equally happy to talk up Harrington’s prospects of enjoying a big Ryder Cup.

Montgomerie has been doing all in his power to rid himself of an irascible personality and we have seen more smiles from the man in the weeks leading up to Celtic Manor than ever crossed his face in close on 30 years as one of the game’s most successful players. But his face visibly hardened when all the criticism he has taken, chiefly in the British media, was raised at yesterday’s press conference.

“I feel it was very unjustified, to be honest,” he declared. “I know what Pádraig Harrington can do and that’s why he was picked. He’s like a rookie out there today. He’s had three eagles already and is playing the best golf of the team out there. He’s a world player, he’s won three major championships and the stature of the guy is second to none within our team.

“I’m very happy that he shot 64 the way he did with seven birdies and an eagle in the last round in Paris, moving up from 40th to 8th and only a shot off 3rd. That was great for him and it was important for him that he had a card and pencil in his hand the week before the Ryder Cup. He walked into Celtic Manor on Sunday night with his wife as if he was a rookie. He was really up about the whole thing and has been since. Judge me about that selection on October 4, not on September 28.’’

On a point of accuracy, Harrington had “only” two birdies yesterday, a putt for the third from 40 feet actually lipped out. As Ian Poulter put it, “Harrington and Donald cleaned out Fisher and myself.”

Holding a close watching brief was Paul McGinley. “Nothing that I didn’t expect,’’ he said. “Pádraig was picked for a reason – his ability to perform when the stakes are high. Time will prove whether we are right. We have confidence in him and now we’re going to let Pádraig get on with it and put no more pressure on him.’’

Suggest to McGinley that Harrington was lucky to get the pick and he listens attentively before replying calmly and candidly.

“I have no worries about Pádraig but, yes, it was a big call to pick him,” he accepted. “I personally don’t think it was a gamble because I more than anyone else know what he’s like. I think it was wonderful that he played last week and even more wonderful that he finished with a 64.

“It was confirmation that he wasn’t far away but even if he hadn’t done it, I would still have been confident of Pádraig having a good week here.”

McGinley is almost certain to captain the European team either in two years time in the States or in 2014 at Gleneagles. Along the way, he is amassing an enormous amount of experience and know-how and while Montgomerie will also look to Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Sergio Garcia for all the advice they can offer, one senses that McGinley is his right hand man. He certainly won’t be one for pulling his punches at team meetings or indeed if calls have to be made in the heat of battle.

“We had a great meeting last night for about an hour and a quarter,’’ he said. “It started with players, wives, partners. Then it went down to players and caddies and finished with just players and back-room staff. A lot of bridges were crossed and a lot of things were set in stone for the week. There was lots of fun and banter and then we had a buffet dinner at our own pace so it was a very typical first day at the Ryder Cup.”

Europe are also fortunate that the doubts about Lee Westwood, especially, and Peter Hanson have been dispelled and the Englishman just can’t wait to get going having spent two weeks on the sideline through injury.

“Lee Westwood is buzzing, there’s no pain in the calf and he’s as fit as a fiddle,’’ said McGinley. “He has practised really well and Monty told me he’s been playing fantastically well.”


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