Montgomerie is a man with a plan – and he's not afraid to share it
Secrecy usually reigns, but Europe's captain has told his team the line-up for the crucial first fourballs
Thursday 23 September 2010
The 38th Ryder Cup does not tee off until a week tomorrow, but already the European team knows exactly who will be playing with whom in the critical opening fourballs. Colin Montgomerie has tossed aside 83 years of captaincy convention by informing his men of the Friday morning line-up well before they arrive at the scene of the biennial dust-up.
Montgomerie made this surprising admission here on the eve of the Vivendi Cup yesterday. He was at Golf de Joyenval, a course on the outskirts of Paris, ostensibly as an ambassador for the event. But all the talk centred on next week's showdown at Celtic Manor and, in particular, Monty's unprecedented move.
The Scot confessed the earliest he ever discovered his partner was on the Wednesday, 48 hours beforehand. Considering he played in eight Ryder Cups, this surely proves the boldness of his tactic. "I go against all that about telling the team two hours beforehand whether they are in or not," said Montgomerie, in a marked reference to a certain Italian manager of the England football team. "Barring, of course, accidents or illness or a complete lack of comfort of the position they are in, they know the Friday fourballs – and that's important to them."
Explaining why, he said: "I wanted to have more of an open campaign, not dark in any way. I've always said that and there's no point in keeping secrets and things hidden to my players. I don't understand all that 'no, I'm not telling you'. Well, why not? I want to know. I wanted to know myself what was happening, and sometimes I wasn't given that opportunity. I've made sure my players do know."
To that end, Montgomerie claimed to have spoke to all 12 members of the side and emphasised the players had plenty of input in his decision. "This is not a dictatorship," he said. "I would never instruct anybody, 'you're playing with him' – never." Yet neither is it a meritocracy. Those who have not been chosen for the first session have been told they will definitely play in the Friday afternoon foursomes, barring, of course "accidents etc". It means that for only the second time in European Ryder Cup history nobody will have to wait until Saturday.
"Everybody is going to play on that first day and that's also very important," he said. "They can go to bed after they arrive on Monday night knowing they are going to be helping the team on Friday. I've told them that to allay their nerves about when they may or may not be playing. I don't want the sort of team we had in the Nineties, where there was a split."
Again, Montgomerie's own experiences have played a big part in his thinking. As a largely unknown 28-year-old in 1991 he appeared in three out of the five sessions, but felt a stranger. "When I made my debut I was part of that split – I felt very, very junior and very, very rookie," he recalled. "I hadn't played an American major by then. But the guys on my team all have and have played world events. This team is much closer in standard than we've ever had before. There's hardly anything between the 12 of them – and that's why they can and will all play on the first day."
As Montgomerie was making his announcement, Peter Hanson was awaiting his turn to go before the press. It was to be a rather long wait – even when the Swede got behind the microphone, Monty continued to hold court – but an altogether gratifying one. Slightly worryingly, Hanson said, "this was the first I'd heard it", but his relief at knowing he would have a part on the opening day was obvious. "That's going to help me a lot," he said. "It had been on my mind, especially as I was the last guy to qualify and have the highest world ranking [40th] on the side. I will now be able to prepare myself 100 per cent."
Montgomerie's reasoning is no doubt commendable, but some may also think it slightly foolhardy, if not just because he has made his call before checking on individual form. At Kentucky two years ago, Nick Faldo was lambasted for getting caught out by photographers with a list of his opening pairs in his hand – and his "just my sandwich list" justification only added to the criticism. But Montgomerie will not be revealing his order until just before the draw a week today and does not really care if American captain Corey Pavin can work out the pairings from practice.
"I'm not showing my hand at all," he said. "Corey won't know for sure who's playing with who or in what order. And if the Molinari Brothers play together in practice? Well, that'd be a surprise, wouldn't it? Who'd have thought it? I wish all the pairings could be so easy."
The Italians, however, will not form the only obvious partnership. In the predictable scramble to second-guess Montgomerie, most will pair Rory McIlroy with his Ulster hombre, Graeme McDowell, and world No 3 Lee Westwood with the USPGA champion and world No 5 Martin Kaymer. Whatever the cast-list, they will go out with a buzzword ringing loud from their captain.
"I'm looking for momentum from that first morning," he said. "I'm looking for a win in the series that will get the crowd going. When you're away from home it's very hard to get the momentum back and I think that's why we lost two years ago."
A second successive defeat would be hard for Europe to take. Now that most of the organising has been done – the speeches written, the outfits tailored – there is only one concern to occupy Monty's mind. He does not want to mess up what he sees as a winning team. "What have I been doing the last few weeks? Thinking about the result," he said. "Of course, I've been anxious about playing at home and the strength of our team. But it's my job to relieve that anxiety within myself and get my players playing to their potential. Because I'm convinced, if they play to their potential, we will win."
But Monty does think "it will take all of our potential". He does not subscribe to the theory that has Europe strolling it. He anticipates the Usk Valley witnessing an almighty scrap all the way to the finishing line. "Believe me this match will be hotly contested," he said. "And I also think this will be one of the most watched Ryder Cups of all time."
The reason for that, he concedes, is not just because Europe are so desperate to win back the trophy they previously held for six years. But also because of a certain superstar seeking his own redemption. "I think the inclusion of Tiger Woods has made it a bigger and better event," he said. "Everyone will be saying to themselves, 'OK, I wonder how he's going to play? I wonder how he's going to be used by Corey Pavin? I wonder how Corey is going to fit him in? Is he not going to play five times?' It will be interesting to see how he performs and how he reacts to a different situation having been picked. I think with this Ryder Cup, there are a lot of scenarios going on within the one scene. I look forward to them all."
Europe's fourball pairings? As predicted by James Corrigan
Ryder Cups: Debut
Ryder Cup pts: n/a
Ryder Cups: 1
Ryder Cup pts: 2.5
Ryder Cups: 5
Ryder Cup pts: 8.5
Ryder Cups: 2
Ryder Cup pts: 5.5
Ryder Cups: 2
Ryder Cup pts: 5
Ryder Cups: Debut
Ryder Cup pts: n/a
Ryder Cups: 6
Ryder Cup pts: 16.5
Ryder Cups: Debut
Ryder Cup pts: n/a
Ryder Cup countdown: 8 days to go
Europe's Tony Jacklin and the American Gene Littler jointly hold the record for the most matches halved in the history of the Ryder Cup: eight.
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