Hanson threatens to Czech Monty's plans
If Swede wins today the captain will have to leave a superstar out of Ryder Cup
Colin Montgomerie would not have ringed the Czech Open as one of the more important European Tour events to keep an eye on in the race to make his Ryder Cup team.
But today the captain will be perched on his sofa praying for Miguel Angel Jimenez to prevail. In fact, anybody but Peter Hanson or Simon Dyson.
It looks a forlorn wish as Hanson leads by four from Dyson and Jimenez. A Hanson or Dyson victory would herald glory for themselves and a nightmare for Montgomerie. In truth, Hanson's fully-deserved elevation appears inevitable.
The Swede's second title of the season would push Paul Casey out of the top nine who will go forward automatically to Celtic Manor when qualification concludes in seven days' time. Montgomerie will then be presented with a stark choice – three from Casey, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Justin Rose. Without a doubt, it would be the most difficult selection decision any Europe captain has ever faced.
If only it were that simple. It will not be merely a case of phoning the odd superstar and saying "Sorry, but what could I do?" Montgomerie will have to face the media, who will all too readily recall a Monty declaration made back in June. "I expect anyone who wants a wildcard to be at Gleneagles [next week for the final qualifying event, the Johnnie Walker Championship]," said the no-nonsense leader. "Let's just say it will be in their interests to do so."
Well, they won't be there – they have other interests. Yesterday, Donald's management confirmed that he has decided not to make a last-minute switch and travel over to Scotland. Instead, just like Harrington, Rose and Casey, he will tee it up in the first of the £7m American play-off events. So if Montgomerie is to go with the obvious and name the top-ranked players at his disposal, he will have to sit there on Sunday evening – not only as the captain but also the event's promoter – and name a trio who have effectively disobeyed his orders.
Perhaps it will be his fault to find himself in such an uncomfortable position. But for once there will be sympathy among the rank and file for the big Scot. The shameless dollar-chasers have seen to that.
Andrew Coltart speaks for many on the Tour when questioning the priorities of the heavyweight stay-aways. "The Ryder Cup is the pinnacle of a lot of players' careers, but is money more important to people nowadays?" said Coltart, who played in the 1999 match. "I'm a bit concerned about that. I'd like to have seen them come back, support Europe. But they've got other things on their plate. The FedEx Cup is maybe tied into some of their sponsorship deals and they've decided they're going to plough on after that."
While Harrington and Co insist the Ryder Cup is still a main focus, many look at their non-negotiable schedules and wonder. Coltart is not naming names, but he is prepared to reveal that certain characters have expressed to him their indifference to the biennial spectacular.
"I heard Corey Pavin [the US captain] saying – and I would be one in this camp who would agree – that you'd want to play in the Ryder Cup at all costs," said Coltart, who is a past member of the Players' Committee, the Tour's power-brokers. "But I've heard some mutterings from players over here that they're not so sure. Maybe that's them just trying to play it down should their noses be put out of joint, I'm not so sure, but I was surprised to hear it."
The actions of Monty's Stateside quartet have only added to a growing feeling on the European Tour ranges that there has been a flip-flopping in attitude towards the Ryder Cup. Once the accusation was that it was Europe who were enthusiastic about the team format of the Ryder Cup and that the Americans were a mere bunch of individuals. But now, when a player like Bubba Watson can lose in the play-off of a USPGA and immediately say it was more important to earn a place in the Ryder Cup, the signs of a role reversal are obvious.
"Absolutely," said Coltart. "I can't condone it. It's pretty poor. It would be very sad if that's the way it's swinging. I'm proud of being a European and that Europe has always had great values regarding the Ryder Cup. It's a shame to hear suggestions like that."
If he was allowed, Montgomerie would no doubt agree. What a week lies in store for the captain. Would he dare to drop two of the big four and be seduced by the emotive pull of Italy's Edoardo Molinari, who will not only be in Auchterarder but already has his brother Francesco in the team? So much for Montgomerie's boast: "You can't have too many options."
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