When Tiger Woods arrives with the rest of the US Ryder Cup team at Cardiff Airport this morning he may be interested in comments made by the opposing captain. Colin Montgomerie yesterday declared that given the chance he would not have the world No 1 in his side – but he would have Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker.
This was a surprising statement from the Scot, seeing as members of his team have been warning in the last week of the perils of taunting Tiger. "Remember what happened to Stephen Ames?" said Graeme McDowell, in reference to the Canadian who was daft enough to questions Woods' predominance before the first round of the World Matchplay and was promptly dispatched by a record 9&8 scoreline.
Europe will be praying their leader's words do not provoke the same response. "I would have to say that of the Americans, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk would be picks on my team if I had the opportunity," said Montgomerie. "They're very steady, can play in fourballs foursomes, are great single players and are great team players. No, I didn't mention Tiger there, the No 1 player in the world. Obviously, Tiger hasn't been himself on or off the course and it is matter of seeing what he does."
Having won 10 of his 25 matches, Woods' Ryder Cup record is actually better than that of Furyk (eight from 24) and Stricker (none from three). But his game since returning from a self-enforced four-month exile in the wake of a sex scandal has been unrecognisable. Monty is not alone in being uncertain about his form coming into the event he has never truly enjoyed, but among European captains he is probably alone in daring to voice these doubts.
As it happens, Mongomerie should probably be thanking Woods for ensuring Lee Westwood is teeing up on this Twenty Ten course when the biennial spectacular begins on Friday. The world No 3 revealed to The Independent it was Woods' advice that persuaded him to take a six-week break and get himself in what he calls "100 percent shape for the Ryder Cup".
"I played with Tiger in the first two rounds of the Bridgestone [Invitational] back at the start of the August and I was struggling with my ruptured calf muscle," he said. "Tiger saw me battling on and said to me, 'God you're stubborn. What are you doing?' What he said resonated with me and I thought maybe I should look at this a bit more sensibly, withdraw from that event and the following week's USPGA and do the rehab properly. Tiger's right, I am stubborn and if I'd carried on playing I probably wouldn't be at Celtic Manor."
That he will be is a huge relief to his captain. Montgomerie admitted, "it was dodgy for a while and that was why I was so pleased when I had the text off Lee two weeks ago saying, 'don't worry, I'm ready'." "He brings a consistency to the team that the others can rely on ," added Montgomerie. "And from a captain's point of view to have that sort of player you can rely on is absolutely vital."
Nevertheless, Montgomerie is prepared to let down Westwood, who has stated his desire to play in every session. "I think Lee possibly won't play five matches," he told The Independent on Sunday. In fact, Montgomerie is considering taking the unprecedented step of resting all his players in at least one of the sessions. Yesterday, Thomas Bjorn, his vice-captain, explained the rationale.
"We want our players to be fresh on Sunday," said the Dane. "I think this is the best team Europe have ever had in terms of strength in depth and for that reason there might be no need to exhaust anyone and play them five times."
Bjorn accompanied Montgomerie on a tour of Celtic Manor on Saturday evening and was flabbergasted by what he encountered. "It is definitely the best site I've ever seen in golf in all my years as a pro," said the 39-year-old. "The viewing facilities are amazing and the course is in the best condition I've ever seen a course in Europe," he said. "But the rough is very severe."
That last point should cheer each and every European fan. The home contingent has by far the straightest drivers, a point acknowledged by the last American captain. "If there is a tremendous amount of rough then I believe the US team will be in a bit of trouble," said Paul Azinger. Well, there is a tremendous amount and it is fair to conclude that Monty believes it will be too deep for a certain Tiger.
*Padraig Harrington's final competitive outing before the Ryder Cup saw him equal his lowest round of the year – an eight-under-par 64. After only just surviving the halfway cut at the Vivendi Trophy in Paris, Harrington played his final 36 holes in 12-under, providing the controversial wildcard with a much-needed boost. It was too late to put the Irishman in contention but it did enable him to finish eighth.
Ryder Cup countdown: 4 days to go
Four players have recorded 100 per cent Ryder Cup records for Great Britain & Ireland/ Europe – John Fallon and John Jacobs (1955), Peter Mills (1957) and Paul Broadhurst (1991).