Monty’s wild card warning

COLIN MONTGOMERIE has issued a stern warning to high-profile players, telling them that they cannot count on a “wild card” pick for this year’s European Ryder Cup team.

While not mentioning anyone by name, he strongly hinted that those who haven’t clinched their places — a group which includes Pádraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose — before the last counting event, the Johnnie Walker Championship on August 26-29, must be present at that Gleneagles event if they wish to be considered.

Montgomerie was speaking after he announced that the Dane Thomas Björn and Ireland’s Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley would be his vice captains for the clash with the USA at Celtic Manor from October 1-3.

“I can’t tell people where to play golf tournaments,” said Montgomerie. “They’re all individuals, they’re all self-employed. All I can do is advise them that it would be in their own interests, if they would like to be part of this team, to play in that last qualification event and I have done that.”

At present, Harrington is ninth and 17th respectively in the world and European points lists and so well outside the automatic top nine spots. His hope is that he can assure himself of a sixth successive appearance in the match with impressive performances in next week’s 3 Irish Open at Killarney followed immediately by the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, and the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin. However, if he still hasn’t guaranteed his place after those three tournaments, he will take in Gleneagles although it isn’t on his schedule at present.

“This is the toughest decision that’s ever have had to be made [by a Ryder Cup captain],” maintained Montgomerie. “I have major champions, I have world stars, champions in America, champions in Europe, who are not in this team, far more than three in fact.

“Yes, it is a headache but it is a very positive headache because they’re all great players who can beat each other on a given day. We have six tournaments to go before the selection process has to come to an end and I’m hoping that certain players will perform to allow me to pick players for fourball/foursomes partnerships and other reasons.”

Since last January, Montgomerie has kept a secret list in his bedside locker of his “favourite 12” and one can only assume that Harrington’s name was there from the outset. It could be good news for him that Monty affirmed that “it’s actually shaping up very well and very close to what I thought it would be”. “That’s a fabulous positive for any captain to think that his top 12 is coming very close to fruition. And you’ll only know that 12 if they all spring up and are actually part of the team.”

The appointment of Björn and McGinley as his vice captains had been flagged for some time but the call-up for Clarke came out of the blue. There never has been any great deal of love lost between Montgomerie and Clarke. But the Irishman had only one minor reservation when the invitation came over the last couple of days — he still entertains hopes of being a playing member of the team.

“We spoke about it at length and Monty said he wants me there one way or the other,” said Clarke. “If I do happen to play well enough to give him an extra bit of a headache, we shall see, but right now as it stands, I’m outside the team and delighted to be part of the backroom team.”

McGinley has been preaching the strength of European golf for some years now and expects that the Ryder Cup team will be the strongest ever at Celtic Manor and that he and his fellow backroom team members will enhance the side’s prospects even more.

“We’ve all been involved in this many times before, we’ve learned a lot and we know what works,” he said. “It’s important that we take those principles that have worked in the past and go forward with them, make good decisions and press home the advantage that we have. Based on the world rankings, we are going to be clear favourites. There is pressure in that and the important thing is that we make really good decisions on and off the course.”

Björn was a member of the successful European teams at Valderrama in 1997 and The Belfry in 2002 and was one of Bernhard Langer’s assistants two years later when Europe again won at Oakland Hills. He has played six Ryder Cup matches, won three, lost two and halved one.

Clarke also made his debut in ‘97 and was on four out of five winning teams. His record stands at played 20, won 10, lost seven and halved three. He and Lee Westwood captured six points out of a possible eight in their fourball/foursomes matches.

McGinley has the distinction of playing on three successful teams and will forever be associated with the 2002 triumph when he holed the winning putt. He has played nine Ryder Cup matches, winning and losing two and tying five times. He was also the captain of the GB&Ireland team that defeated the Europe in the Vivendi Trophy last September.


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