Golf: Relaxed Monty made for Medinah

The European No 1 has avoided Ryder Cup controversy and is confident for a shot at USPGA title
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THE LAST major championship of the century, the 81st USPGA at Medinah, continues to be eclipsed by the Ryder Cup. While the American team for the match in Boston next month will be finalised on Monday, when the captain, Ben Crenshaw, announces his two wild cards, the cloudy issue of payment for playing refuses to go away.

On Tuesday, following a meeting with the players, the PGA of America announced they would look at ways to use some of their $18m (pounds 11.5m) profits for the players' own charitable donations. In return for presenting a united front, with spin-doctoring of the highest order by Jim Awtrey, of the PGA, and the US Tour commissioner, Tim Finchem, the players were presumably told to cut the public whining.

Not that the moral ground is any higher in Europe. While many of the team have expressed no desire to be paid to play, Nick Faldo suggested a figure of pounds 100,000 would be commensurate with the effort put in for the week.

"I can see both sides of the argument," said Faldo, whose 11 appearances are more than anyone else. "I'm not looking for the money myself but I would support a Ryder Cup fund where the players have a say where it goes."

By not arriving until Tuesday afternoon and sneaking out for a dawn practice round yesterday, Colin Montgomerie has neatly sidestepped the issue. "After winning in Sweden on Sunday I was tired and decided to change my plans," he said. "I have never had just one practice round before a major, but I've never won a major either so we'll see if this works."

The typical US Open-style lay-out he found was just what Montgomerie wanted to see. "The course suits me," he purred. "You have to hit the fairways." Being confident and relaxed is something Europe's No 1 has rarely found as easy in the States than at home. But he said: "I am very relaxed. I have never won four times in a season before and my game has improved. I feel I'm hitting the ball better and feel confident."

With Lee Westwood in similar mood, plus Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik in form, a European may hold up the Wanamaker Trophy for the first time. "There is an anticipation that one of us might do well," Montgomerie said.

The key for Westwood, after his back-to-back wins in the Netherlands and Ireland, is that "I am hitting the shots under pressure when it matters more than I ever have before".

Montgomerie and Westwood are already sure of their places in Boston, along with Clarke, Paul Lawrie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Jarmo Sandelin and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Jean Van de Velde, who, like Lawrie, is making his debut in an American major, is not quite safe in eighth.

The Europeans still have another week to go, at the BMW International, but a good cheque at Medinah may mean a trip to Munich is not necessary. Sergio Garcia, at 12th on the rankings, has entered that tournament as well as the Sprint International in Denver.

Garcia and Bernhard Langer, who is 11th, would like to usurp the places currently held by Robert Karlsson and Andrew Coltart. All the top 15 on the European list are playing here, including the captain, Mark James, but Padraig Harrington, in 16th place, may move up by virtue of playing against a weakened field in the West of Ireland Classic in Galway.

Parnevik, a prime contender for one of James's two wild cards along with Langer and Garcia, has not given up hope of qualifying, and it is even mathematically possible, as they say, for Faldo to make the top 10. He is 54th on the list and, as ever, is optimistic an improvement in form is just around the corner. "Give me another month," Faldo said. He has just two weeks.

On the American side, David Duval, Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart, Davis Love and Mark O'Meara have clinched their places. The next two in the list, Hal Sutton and Justin Leonard, are virtually secure, but Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Jeff Maggert need to be on their guard.

Mickelson's only outing since finishing second to Stewart at Pinehurst and the birth of his baby daughter the following day was a missed cut at Carnoustie, and in the American system players only receive Ryder Cup points for finishing in the top 10 at tournaments.

Though both Woods and Duval have dismissed the Ryder Cup as an "exhibition", it was refreshing to hear an American player talking positively about the event. "When I was growing up," Mickelson said, "it was the most exciting, enjoyable golf event to watch on television. To play for your country and be a part of the history of the game is an exciting thing. The Ryder Cup is our best opportunity to present to the public our strongest product."

Tom Lehman, who is in 11th place, missed a chance to get into the automatic spots when he lost a four-shot lead last week in the Buick Classic. But the former Open champion, after four runner-up finishes this season despite missing the first two months after shoulder problems, must be in line for one of Crenshaw's wild cards. The other candidates would be Maggert, the World Matchplay champion, should he slip out of the top 10, Fred Couples and Lee Janzen. Couples, 17th on the standings, needs at worst a fourth place finish, while Janzen, 23rd, must win.

Couples decided to rest his troublesome back by not going to Carnoustie and must have been pleased with the decision when he watched the Open on television. He has not played for six weeks but, having been a member of each US team since 1989, he would add necessary experience. "I haven't been in competition for a while, so it's tough," Couples said. "But I've been home practising and working on my game. I'm ready to play.

"If I don't play well here there's no way I'll be on the team. That doesn't mean I need to win here. But I need to feel as though I can beat anybody. If I play well I can look at the guy and say 'Hey, I'm hitting it where I'm looking. I'm going to be ready'".

Montgomerie reckons getting in front of Woods must give anyone a chance of victory. Woods was lurking on the final days of both the US Open and the Open, as Jack Nicklaus used to do, he noted. In contrast, Duval described his major season as "mediocre", his best finish a sixth at the Masters.

But while neither played last week, Duval went back to the top of the world rankings. The crucial factor in the complicated mathematics appears to be the fact that Duval missed the cut in an event in the equivalent week two years ago. He therefore lost fewer points than Woods and his average increased more. "What happened on Sunday?" Duval asked. "I go fishing and end up No 1."

Another thing that may not look right are Medinah's greens, which are turning brown. They putted well in practice but there were the inevitable complaints from the players. Technically, the greens are "stressed out" after a month of high temperatures and humidity.

RACE TO MAKE THE RYDER CUP

UNITED STATES

1 *D Duval 1,458pts

2 *T Woods 1,408

3 *P Stewart 917

4 *D Love 912

5 *M O'Meara 837

6 H Sutton 752

7 J Leonard 704

8 J Furyk 649

9 P Mickelson 640

10 J Maggert 625

11 T Lehman 593

12 S Stricker 571

13 J Huston 549

14 C Perry 537

15 B Estes 521

16 S Pate 506

17 F Couples 492

18 J Sluman 490

19 T Herron 479

20 F Funk 440

21 G Day 432

22 T Tryba 422

23 L Janzen 388

24 B Geiberger 384

25 B Mayfair 382

26 S Hoch 369

27 B Tway 349

28 M Calcavecchia 348.9

29 L Roberts 348.7

* denotes players who have secured a place. Top 10 qualify after USPGA championship on 15 August. The captain, Ben Crenshaw, then selects two wild cards. Winner of USPGA receives 300pts; 2nd 180; 3rd 160; 4th 140; 5th 120; 6th 100; 7th 80; 8th 60; 9th 40; 10th 20.

EUROPE

1 C Montgomerie (Sco) 18,034.10pts

2 L Westwood (Eng) 10,873.31

3 D Clarke (NIrl) 9,034.32

4 P Lawrie (Sco 7,472.54

5 J M Olazabal (Sp) 6,829.13

6 J Sandelin (Swe) 6,362.78

7 M A Jimenez (Sp) 6,330.63

8 J Van de Velde (Fr) 5,197.13

9 R Karlsson (Swe) 4,642.01

10 A Coltart (Sco) 4,395.80

11 B Langer (Ger) 4,009.12

12 S Garcia (Spa) 3,956.11

13 M James (Eng) 3,895.63

14 A Cejka (Ger) 3,858.58

15 S Struver (Ger) 3,845.58

16 P Harrington (Rep Irl) 3,678.02

17 G Orr (Sco) 3,655.89

18 J Parnevik (Swe) 3,631.76

19 D Howell (Eng) 3,608.31

20 D Carter (Eng) 3,555.39

Top 10 qualify after BMW International Open, Munich, on 22 August. The captain, Mark James, then selects two wild cards.

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