Montgomerie softens hard line on stay-away Ryder Cup hopefuls

Europe captain retreats from his insistence that wild-card contenders must play final qualifying event
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The Independent Online

Colin Montgomerie rose to protect the honour of the "FedEx Four" yesterday, which may sound like he has joined the Bar and was defending a heist gang. He hasn't and wasn't. Montgomerie is the Ryder Cup captain and was defending the honour of the wild cards he will almost certainly pick here on Sunday evening.

Of course, Montgomerie was not about to admit – on the eve of a Johnnie Walker Championship that he, himself promotes – that he is about to side with golfers who have forsaken the chance to qualify automatically here and will instead tee it up in America today in the first of the $70m FedEx play-offs. But he did say: "My remit at the start of this campaign, and it's never changed, was to assemble the best 12 players for Europe to try to regain the Ryder Cup."

With that he dropped the shovel and clambered out of the hole he had dug when previously declaring he "expected" all those who believed they were in with a shout for one of his three captain's picks to be in Perthshire, for this, the climactic qualifying event. Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Justin Rose decided otherwise, even turning down Montgomerie to his face a fortnight ago at the USPGA when he asked them to change their minds. "I had to go with their answers," he said. "I can't tell anybody to play anywhere."

No, but he could refuse to pick them because of it, although he is not about to do that. Say what you want about Monty – and almost every civilised human being has at some time over the last two decades – but he cares deeply about the Ryder Cup, the event which has most defined his majorless career. So he will bite his lip, suppress those vengeful feelings and for the next four days check two leaderboards. "I have to look at the form of the so-called 'FedEx Four' and compare it to what's happening here," he confirmed.

What will be happening here is that Ross McGowan will be trying to finish in the top two and Simon Dyson and Alvaro Quiros will be trying to win to leapfrog into the top-nine automatic placings. In turn, from seventh to ninth respectively, Francesco Molinari, Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez will be desperate to earn the euros to guarantee their spots. Meanwhile, Edoardo Molinari, the world No 21 who last year won the World Cup alongside his brother and Celtic Manor certainty Francesco, will drive off in the belief that only victory will see him selected above another of the stay-away quartet.

In truth, everyone here agrees with the Italian on that score. Robert Karlsson is probably the only other pro in this limited field who, with a win, could conceivably force his way into the captain picks. Otherwise, it will be between the three Englishmen and the Irishman. At the very least that will cause a bit of a stink, as Casey, Harrington and Donald could have all qualified by right here, if they had chosen to place the Ryder race above the dollar chase. "It's a shame the players who support the European Tour are not more in contention," said Quiros.

The big-hitting Spaniard was unafraid to bring up Montgomerie's former statements. "If I'm not wrong, the captain has said he's going to give important consideration to players who support the European Tour," said the 27-year-old. "I don't know what is going to happen with this now. I wouldn't like to be in his position."

Yet Quiros does know. When told yesterday that Montgomerie had said he had spoken to everyone at the USPGA he needed to about the wild cards, his hands went up. "He said that?" asked Quiros, who later revealed Monty had passed him by three times that week. "Well, now you have who is going to be the picks."

Well, not quite. Montgomerie spoke to Donald, Casey, Harrington and Rose. Three from four. And not one of them within 3,000 miles of Perthshire. What a mess and, it has to be said, some of it has been of the captain's making.

"In Spain, we say the wind will take the words," concluded Quiros. "Words are words and at the end the only thing that matters is what happens. If you want we can take a seat after we know who are the wild cards, I can tell you 'fair' or 'no fair'. But this is why they are wild cards. He doesn't need a reason to pick or not pick anybody."

The change in stance...

Colin Montgomerie, 26 August 2009:

"Next year the Johnnie Walker Championship will be one of, if not the strongest event field-wise on the European schedule next year. You'll find the players who ranked No 5 through to 25 on the standings will be playing here. I won't even have to ask them."

Colin Montgomerie, 1 June 2010:

"I want to see them [European players] showing support for European golf and the European Tour and I will be very, very surprised if they are not there. To be there would make a whole lot of sense to a whole lot of people. I will have around eight candidates for three spots. I shouldn't have to ask those eight to play at Gleneagles. They will be there."

Colin Montgomerie, 25 August 2010:

"I feel I'm glad that the players that might well get selected, that are playing in America right now, are playing golf, playing competitive golf. That's very important. So I support their choice."

Ryder Cup long shots...

The nine players to qualify automatically for Europe's team are likely to be: Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher, Francesco Molinari, Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Only the following three have a chance of forcing their way into that list this week:

Ross McGowan

Will qualify if he wins as long as Hanson and Jimenez are not joint second and Francesco Molinari is not fourth. Second place would do, provided Hanson is not in the top 17 and Jimenez is outside the top seven.

Simon Dyson

Has to win and hope that two of the following three do not happen: McGowan second or better, Jimenez ninth or better, Hanson 43rd or better.

Alvaro Quiros

Must win and hope Jimenez is outside the top 31 and McGowan is not second.