Henrik Stenson is known as the biggest prankster on Tour and the mischievous whisper here in the desert last night was that as the Swede had been revealed as the member of the players' committee who originally put forward Colin Montgomerie's name as Nick Faldo's successor, this was a joke that had gotten badly out of hand. A delicious thought, maybe. But also an erroneous one. For "Colin Montgomerie, Europe captain" works on every level. Certainly on that all-important level of the blue and gold brigade winning back the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, Newport in 20 months' time.
It was inevitable that the 45-year-old would become the sixth Scotsman to lead the challenge against America. The "if" was never in question; yet the "when" most definitely was. And it had been until the extraordinary meeting in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago when Stenson opened his mouth and triggered one of the more fascinating captaincy races that saw an outsider priced at 50-1 and upwards three weeks ago somewhat disbelievingly romp past the finishing line. As he sat down last night, an hour so after the announcement had been beamed live across Europe, Montgomerie spoke of his reasons for accepting the role now and not waiting until what had previously been his preferred match of 2014 on his home soil of Gleneagles.
He talked of Sandy Lyle, the countryman whose merits he had extolled in the run-up, being considered by the selection panel as too out of touch with the young players who he did not know and therefore could not inspire. This was the problem with Faldo, or so the burgeoning theory goes, and if Montgomerie waited until he was 51 he too could seemingly possess all of the attributes without any of the understanding.
"This is my time," said Montgomerie with an unarguable finality. "I had earmarked 2014 at Gleneagles as the most likely match for me to take on the captaincy, but it became clear as the requirements were spelled out that this is my time. Yes, there will be a part of me that will regret not captaining the team in Scotland – but it was the same for Ian Woosnam, who did the job in Ireland in 2006 rather than wait for it to be played in Wales. I am sure he would not swap his experience for anything, and hopefully I will feel the same when the 2010 match is over."
It all sounded so simple but, believe it, it wouldn't have been. For one thing Montgomerie had been forced to accept that his team-playing days are inextricably in that wing mirror. Not easy for a man who was within one and a half points of the individual Cup points scoring record held by a Mr Faldo. Stranded on 231/2 points, Montgomerie will now never command the place that his influence in establishing a startling spell of European dominance perhaps deserved. Or maybe he will.
He clearly thinks so. "I have to say that team golf has defined me and my career," said the winner of eight Order of Merit titles. "I have won Ryder Cups, World Cups, Dunhill Cups and Seve Trophies, and loved every minute of it. I believe my Ryder Cup record will be my legacy to the game. And yes, a victory as captain would complete that."
When it comes to talking the good game "of the team comes first" Montgomerie, five times a major runner-up, has always been a different animal to Faldo, the six-times major winner, even if not everyone was aware of it at the time. "I've always said about that individual record that it didn't mean a thing to me," he said as the blackness enveloped the Emirates Golf Club last night. "Only the team's record has ever mattered to me." You might have said it, Colin, but not all of us believed you as we looked at a staggering record of 20 wins, seven halves and just nine losses in a Cup playing career that brought five victories in eight appearances.
His most ardent detractors will argue that accepting a job that will net, at the very least, a couple of million can never be described as an act of altruism, but still, in terms of the selfish modern sportsman, it should be viewed as something of a sacrifice; however slight. It is certainly true that Monty's stock has never been higher on the Tour.
Not only do they see a fellow professional stepping into a void that needed filling, but they also admired the manner in which he declared yesterday that any qualifying points he earns will be "nullified". The plaudits fairly rained down after that.
"We've had our little ding-dongs, but he is such a great person – and as captain, you would perform for him. He'd have great respect from everyone, and you'd expect him to get the best out of you." That particular endorsement came from Ian Poulter, a player with whom Montgomerie has indeed had his confrontations these last few years. While a prospective team-member's comments about the next captain must always be taken with a fistful of bunker grit, Poulter's comments do outline the paradox of Colin Montgomerie.
While his misdemeanour in the infamous "Jakartagate" incident – when Montgomerie was caught on camera illegally dropping his ball – will always blight the reputation of a player who, on tour, has always been something of a loner, when it comes to the Ryder Cup any previous indiscretions have consistently been ripped up. Last week Lee Westwood said that "seeing Monty there on the first tee in Newport as captain will make me feel like we're already one-up". It has ever been thus with this curious public schoolboy.
He, himself, fails to put a finger on why he feels such comfort in an environment which plainly should feel alien. "It is hard to say why being part of a team seems to have brought the very best out of me," he acknowledged. "But I do love the camaraderie, the atmosphere of the team room and the whole feel of participating in such a huge event alongside your golfing peers. It is that passion that I will hope to transmit to the players as their captain."
For their part, the players seem to have ultimate faith in their captain doing just that. There may indeed be more, in these credit-crunched times, to the appointment of such a fine public speaker who will undoubtedly fill countless column inches in the next two seasons and, in the process, draw in the sponsors and the fans. But when a player like Sergio Garcia says, "Monty will be such a great captain because he cares so much about the Ryder Cup", there is an outpouring of good feeling among the playing ranks that, to their mind, transcends the finance. All very endearing, but won't it take more than mere passion?
Montgomerie is no fool and will already have a clear image of what he wants. For starters, it is believed that he will ask to have one more wild-card pick when the Ryder Cup committee next meets as he seeks to address the anomaly that currently has his American counterpart, Corey Pavin, with four picks at his disposal and Montgomerie with just two. Then there is the number of assistants he will take.
He went out of his way not to criticise Faldo yesterday, but many of his inferences screamed dismay at a Cup campaign he was incensed not to have been asked to have played a part in. Faldo had only Jose Maria Olazabal assisting him (unless you count DJ Spoony). Monty will have at least three assistants and as well as the Spaniard, expect Woosnam to be in attendance, if only to give it a Welsh flavour. In truth, Monty is to this Manor born. He has designed a course at the Usk Valley complex, has a close relationship with the billionaire owner, Sir Terry Matthews, and is a fixture at the Wales Open, where, it must be said, he has received appearance money. It is the perfect tie-up. "I will walk every blade of grass on the 2010 course to get to know it," he said. "I will leave no stone unturned to win back the Cup."
Monty's trouble: Colin and the Americans
Colin Montgomerie's appointment as European captain for next year's Ryder Cup should make for an interesting side-story, given his chequered history with some of those in the American game...
Irishman David Feherty, working for American television, unkindly likened the Scot to Robin Williams' 1990s film character, a comparison seized on with glee by baying US crowds.
During the 2002 US Open Monty's shot preparations were interrupted by a spectator trying to grab his attention. Repeated cries of "Monty" ended with the Scot looking up to be greeted with "Nice pair of tits you've got there".
'Be Nice to Monty'
At the same event American magazine Golf Digest issued "Be Nice to Monty" badges to fans in an attempt to defuse the disharmony that surrounded Montgomerie's every appearance.
As his chances of winning receded, Monty's irritation grew. A young child put Monty off his swing, resulting in the Scot throwing his tee in the boy's direction. Monty had earlier been involved in an altercation with a police officer when leaving the clubhouse.
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