McIlroy leads way as Britain and Ireland close in on win

Ballesteros 'unlikely' to present trophy after treatment leaves him fatigued
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The Independent Online

Officials at the Vivendi Trophy revealed it is "highly unlikely" that Seve Ballesteros will make the trip here today to hand out the silverware which bears his inspirational figure. That is a pity in so many respects, but perhaps a consolation in at least one regard. For Seve's beloved Continentals have been scattered all over Versailles these last three days.

Thomas Bjorn's side are 121/2-51/2 down and two points away from being put out of their misery in the remaining 10 singles matches. This has been one of the finest performances of a professional golfing team representing Great Britain and Ireland. Seen as underdogs coming in, Paul McGinley's young pups have shown all the pedigree so far, gnawing their opponents to within an inch of their dignity – and even closer with yesterday's 61/2-11/2 scoreline in the greensomes and foursomes.

As putt after putt has rolled in it has been possible to pose the question: who needs Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey Luke Donald and, dare we mention him, Ian Poulter?

Well, Colin Montgomerie, for one. The Vivendi Trophy is to the Ryder Cup what the Community Shield is to the Champions' League and the Scot still needs the nerveless old guard on side. As he may just have indicated with something resembling a climbdown yesterday.

"What I said about Poulter was a compliment and he should take it as such," said Montgomerie. Ah, the only reason he so forcefully stated his disappointment at the Englishman's no-show was because, as Ryder Cup captain, he wanted to see him in action. That makes a bit of sense.

Or does it? In fact, wasn't Poulter spot on when saying, in the midst of the latest blow-up between the pair, "The Vivendi will be awesome to highlight some potential new Ryder Cup players in McIlroy, Fisher, Quiros, Dougherty [and] Wood." The first-named would have played anyway, but without the mass withdrawal, Chris Wood would have been back in Bristol. The 21-year-old just happens to be the only player who has a four-out-of-four record and even Montgomerie is thankful for his presence.

"I haven't seen much of Chris play before," he said. "He's extremely good, and is one I'm watching closely." There are others, not least the two captains. Montgomerie went out of his way not to praise McGinley at the expense of Bjorn but still, he hardly short-changed the Irishman in credit.

"He's taken to captaincy like a fish to water – incredible," said Montgomerie, drawing particular attention to the Irishman's "psychology" and "thoroughness". Montgomerie must keep waiting until McGinley's playing ambitions run dry to formally announce him as a vice-captain. But announce him he will. As he eventually will Bjorn and, the stubborn Spaniard willing, Jose Maria Olazabal.

Yet it won't end there, as the Monty back-room takes on the feel of a conservatory. If this week's watching brief has told him anything it is that he will need assistants. Golfing folklore already has Nick Faldo going into last year's dust-up in Kentucky with just Olazabal at his side.

"I need a minimum of four," Monty said. "I've learned in my buggy here that it's very difficult to watch golf on the course, so I've put my minimum requirement to the Tour and they've accepted it. I require someone with every game at least. I've realised I need help." People have been saying that for years, Monty.

Some things take little working out, however. Take Rory McIlroy. In three of his four matches with Graeme McDowell, he was first out and was the shining light. In the other McGinley put him in the third group and his talent was dimmed. "There is a mindset there, a definite mindset," said Montgomerie. "He's a very quick player, he likes to get on with it. I like players like that. I get on with it myself."

But surely when it comes to the real thing, he would not contemplate opening up the European challenge with not only a player who happens to be a rookie, but a player who happens to be a 21-year-old rookie? "Why not?" replied Montgomerie. "We have a very special case in Rory, our brightest star in Europe."

McIlroy will be the first out again here this morning and unless Henrik Stenson returns to his brilliant best, he could well be the first to march back in. The young Ulsterman's dream was to have Ballesteros here waiting. Alas, the latest batch of radiotherapy for the brain cancer which struck the Spaniard down last year has left him too fatigued to travel.