Rival skippers buoyed by positive weekend exploits

RIVAL captains Corey Pavin and Colin Montgomerie had good reason to be pleased at how the final tournaments before the Ryder Cup panned out over the weekend.

Montgomerie would have kept an anxious eye on the Vivendi Cup in Paris even though only one of his team was involved. The man involved was by far the most controversial of his three ‘wild card’ selections, our own Pádraig Harrington, a golfer desperately in need of a morale-boosting performance after a disappointing season for the three-time major winner.

And for two particularly uninspiring days, it hardly looked likely to happen. Although he bagged a series of birdies, they were more than offset by a triple bogey, a double bogey and a number of other dropped shots.

It was so dispiriting to watch as he hacked his ball out of the trees and on one notable occasion from a sea of wild flowers almost up to his waist. You couldn’t help but imagine what his unfortunate foursomes partner in the Ryder Cup would make of it.

Harrington scraped into the final 36 holes on the cut mark and was decidedly lucky to do so. Thankfully, a transformation was on the way and after a reasonable 69 on Saturday, he finally came good with Sunday’s 64 that moved him up to a tie for 8th and inevitably promoted the hope that his game was coming good at the right time.

That case has yet to be proven and with so many options available to him, Montgomerie will closely watch form in the practice rounds beginning at Celtic Manor today before pitching the Irishman into battle first thing on Friday morning.

Pádraig himself sounded and looked a very relieved man as he walked off the course after a round of eight under par that equalled his previous best in 2010 and a full three strokes better than anyone else in the field. He subsequently dealt very comfortably with some searching questions and it was reassuring in itself to compare his current frame of mind compared with that which prevailed before Valhalla two years ago.

“I was very tired going into that week and for me it was tough and awkward,” he said. “I was coming off the back of two major victories and it’s not easy to peak for a third time. I fought a lot of things – including my own game – at a time when it would have been better to rest rather than to play the Ryder Cup.

“This is a totally different feeling. I headed here on Sunday night to get a few things out of the way that I would otherwise have to do in what is always a very busy week anyway. I’m enthusiastic and I’m up for it. I’m just hoping that the Ryder Cup can be the peak of my 2010 season.”

Eight of the remaining 11 European team members were taking it easy over the weekend, the exceptions being Lee Westwood and Peter Hanson, both of whom had fitness problems to deal with, and Luke Donald, who played superbly to finish a shot behind Jim Furyk in the Tour Championship at East Lake, Atlanta.

Westwood, a key man on and off the course, seems to have come through his preparations as well as could have been expected after his injury problems but it remains to be seen whether there is sufficient sharpness in his game after being out of action for two months.

Hanson’s chest infection shouldn’t prevent him from playing his part, most likely in the foursomes matches over the first couple of days.

Meanwhile, the Americans touched down in Wales yesterday with several of their team a little unsure of what to expect from the British weather in the first week of October.

The $11-million dollar man Jim Furyk had specially good reason to smile and wave after his exploits in the Tour Championship and is sure to be a key man in Corey Pavin’s ambition to lead the Americans to a successful defence of the trophy.

One of the chief contributors to Furyk’s success was a $39 putter he recently picked up in a department store and which he hopes will also do the business this week. Anybody thinking he won’t be able to lift his game for the Ryder Cup should heed the man’s own words.

“It’s my favourite tournament and I don’t expect any letdown,” he insisted.

“If anything, the fire should burn brighter. When we got on the plane, we clicked the switch. We were Ryder Cup-bound and if you can’t get up for the Ryder Cup, there’s something wrong. You’re representing your country and you’re doing it with your friends and team-mates and guys that you admire. So I’m hoping to keep the roll going and keep the pedal down in Wales. If I don’t, it won’t be anything from a mental perspective, I promise you that.”

By and large, the Tour Championship reflected the American team in a reasonably positive light even if Zach Johnson (one under for ninth place) was the only other member of the side to dip below par.

Next came Hunter Mahan, one over, 15th; Bubba Watson, two over, 17th, and Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, tied 22nd, three over. Corey Pavin would have been less satisfied with Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker, tied 25th on five over, and Jeff Overton, who looks most vulnerable of the lot. He came in second last, 29th on 11 over.

Is this a reflection of the widely held view that the Americans don’t possess the same strength in depth as the Europeans? Only events at Celtic Manor next Friday, Saturday and Sunday will provide the answer to that particular question.


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