Captains set stage for Ryder Cup

Montgomerie and Pavin battle for hearts and minds at venue for next year's duel
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The Independent Online

With Miguel Angel Jimenez being the only player in the field who appeared in the last Ryder Cup, this Wales Open feels suspiciously like a dress rehearsal without the cast. Fortunately the two captains have felt the obligation to check out the venue for next year's match. The presence of Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin here in Gwent has blessedly allowed the Celtic Manor organisers to bill this week as a taster to next year's big event.

Of course, the Wales Open of 2010 will feature if not all then most of Europe's big names. That is, at least, what Colin Montgomerie is banking on. The home skipper sat next to Corey Pavin, his American counterpart, at a glitzy reception yesterday and revealed that he will be lobbying his potential players to turn up at the Manor in 12 months' time. And if they say no, then clearly it will not count in their favour. Not when it comes to a Monty wild card a few months later. "I can't insist on people playing but I can ask," he said. "I am sure I will get a number to say 'yes' and I would expect those potential Ryder Cup players to be playing. Will it count against them in they don't? Well, put it this way – the winner of next year's Wales Open will not only have a great start in making the team on merit but also in a pick situation."

It was a subtle but obvious warning from Montgomerie, who looked every bit the field marshal. Indeed, this was a very statesmanlike performance from both leaders. While everyone expected the Scot to fill the role with effortless ease, Pavin remained a largely unknown quantity (in these parts, anyway). In the last few days, he has been the life and soul of the Newport party, outlasting Montgomerie at Tuesday's Gala Dinner – laughing at all of Rory Bremner's American gags while he was there – and testing the beer at local hostelries. It is as if Kiawah Island never happened.

But it did happen and Pavin knew he would be quizzed at his controversial part in the 1991 match otherwise known as "The War on the Shore". "You're obviously referring to the Desert Storm hat," so Pavin replied to his inquisitor who was indeed thinking back to the army get-up he chose to wear during that infamous week. "That was misconstrued over here, I suppose. It was a show of support for our troops over in Iraq. I was showing my patriotism to the guys out there, putting their lives on the line for our freedom. And if that's wrong, so be it."

Pavin was not about to apologise or even about to explain what on earth a golf event has to do with war. Yet the matter was quickly passed over. This was not one of those Ryder Cup press conferences where the captains stand there like the accused; it was all very pally-pally, particularly between the two protagonists. When Montgomerie talked about Sam Torrance's inspirational message before the 2004 match – "Sam told us, 'I'm glad you left your egos at the door, you can pick them up again when you leave next Monday'" – Pavin piped up. "Hey, I'm going to write that down," he said. "That's good."

In fact, the pair agreed on mostly everything, certainly on the number of assistant captains they will be employing. Nobody mentioned the name "Nick Faldo", although the implications were plain. Jose Maria Olazabal was Faldo's only assistant and, in the eyes of Pavin and Montgomerie, that was not enough. "I'll have four," said the American. "I have a list of people I'm still considering and will make the announcement sometime next year." Montgomerie concurred. "Corey is right," he said. "More is better. I will be having four as well. I believe it is very important to work together as a group and to feed off information coming from the course and the locker room."

Montgomerie then obligingly went on to name some of the candidates: Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley, who he will oversee as the respective captain's of Great Britain & Ireland and Europe at September's Seve Trophy, as well as Ian Woosnam. "Ian did a fantastic job in Ireland," he said. "And there is no reason why someone of his experience and popularity here shouldn't be involved in my thinking."

The Welsh in the audience liked that – Montgomerie had scored a point. Except, as they kept on reminding us, we are 16 months away from the match. Faldo would undoubtedly advise them how sticky it can become when the heat rises and tell them to enjoy these early days. This week is the perfect opportunity for them to inspect the environs, the Twenty10 course, the five-star hotel. Why, Monty and Corey might even tell their players what it is like when they next see them.