CRANS MONTANA, SWITZERLAND | Those European Tour players competing in the Omega European Masters had tuned into all the comments – most of them emanating from the U.S. – about Colin Montgomerie having made a hash of his wild cards, with particular reference to his choice of Padraig Harrington over Paul Casey.
The Europeans were as one in their reading of the situation. To them, it mattered not one jot what the Americans were thinking.
Buoyed by the mountain air in Crans-sur-Sierre, Thomas Bjorn, one of Montgomerie’s vice-captains, made bold to suggest that the criticisms were neither more nor less than he had expected. “Isn’t it the case,” he began, “that the Americans would like to see the negatives of our team by way of making out that the U.S. are better?”
As for Darren Clarke, another of the vice-captains, he suspected that the Americans were rather more swayed by world rankings than we are in Europe. “They do things their way and we do things our way,” came his dry observation.
Both men noted that the European Tour might need to bring the Johnnie Walker forward by one week in order that it did not clash with players’ Fed-Ex Series ambitions in the future. That said, though, they felt they had made the best possible fist of working round the present system.
According to Clarke, “fewer than one player in 10” at Crans had said that they had got things wrong.
It was Bjorn who went through the way things panned out on the afternoon of 29 August when the team was decided.
Molinari had been an absolute must and had inspired them all with the way he responded to the task in hand by signing off with three straight birdies to win the Johnnie Walker. (Molinari, incidentally, said that Monty, in telling him of his pick, had advised that he was getting the first of the wild cards.)
Donald had made for a pretty obvious choice, not just for his then 10th spot in the world rankings but for a Ryder Cup record in which he had won five-and-a-half points out of a possible seven.
When it came down to the last place, seemingly the one between Harrington and Casey, there were several things they would have taken into the equation, including the results of an informal poll from 2008. In it, each of the players was asked whom he would most like to partner.
Harrington had come out of it as well, if not better, than anyone else. Away from that, when Montgomerie, Bjorn, Clarke and McGinley discussed which of Harrington and Casey the Americans would fear the more, they opted for the Irishman.
An odd choice on the face of it in that Casey has much the better current results – a runner-up berth both in the Accenture and the Open and an eighth place on the world rankings to Harrington’s 19th. On the other side of the coin, Harrington was the man with the majors.
The “committee” had further discussed how Harrington’s Ryder Cup sorties had not been the best but suspected that with regard to the 2008 installment, his three majors had left him mentally spent. “Now,” said Bjorn, “he’s in a position to give the match his all. He was thrilled to get his pick and he will be determined to repay us with a good set of results.”
Greg Norman, who was as fascinated by all the Ryder Cup gossip as anyone during his week in Crans, seemed a tad doubtful about the above. He had handed Adam Scott a wild card for The President’s Cup thinking it would bring out the best in him at a time when he was in a bit of a lull, only to discover “things don’t necessarily work that way. You are in danger of putting too much pressure on the player.”
European Tour regulars, on the other hand, gave a knowing nod to Bjorn’s theory. It seemed that no one, not even Norman, was going to sway them from their original feelings that Monty and his men had done well.
“At the end of the day,” said Jamie Donaldson, who was caught up in one of the many Ryder Cup-related huddles, “you can’t leave Padraig out. You have to say, ‘wow’ that Paul didn’t make it but two great players were always going to be disappointed. ”
If anyone was going to have an axe to grind it was Phillip Price, the man who defeated Phil Mickelson by 3 and 2 at the 2002 match at the Belfry. A member of Celtic Manor, Price had been hoping that Montgomerie would give him some kind of role but none has been forthcoming.
Price, though, could find no fault with what Monty had done.
“Let’s face it,” said this quiet and eminently reasonable man. “It was a toss-up between the quintet of Molinari, Donald, Harrington, Casey and Rose. “Monty’s choices have not made for any trouble that I’ve heard of. We’ve got a good captain and a great team … the strongest ever.”