Monty's last stand: Countdown to golf's greatest team contest
Colin Montgomerie, the mainstay of Europe's recent Ryder Cup domination, needs a miracle at Gleneagles this week to make the team – and even that may not prove enough. By James Corrigan, Golf Correspondent
Thursday 28 August 2008
In the midst of all the whisperings, all the intrigue and all of the conspiracy theories that monopolised the run-up to this Johnnie Walker Championship, one man was largely overlooked in the great debate over who will land Nick Faldo's two picks come Sunday evening. Which is rather bizarre, seeing as his name happens to be Colin Montgomerie and for the last decade or so he has been the predominant flag-bearer in Europe's phenomenal run.
Shouldn't the question everybody is asking not be whether Ian Poulter has already received the nod off his captain, and so did not have to bother travelling to Scotland this week to qualify by right, but whether Faldo would dare leave behind the player who has become synonymous with the blue and gold superiority?
Well, that have could have been the burning issue, except it have would been akin to querying whether some whisky may be consumed somewhere on the Gleneagles estate these next four days. To be frank, Montgomerie has about as much chance of earning the nod off Faldo as he has of leaving some dreadful golf behind by winning here. In fact, that is what it will probably take, although some cynics are even claiming that even if he prevailed by a dozen shots then Faldo might still look elsewhere.
Apart from his form or more to the point, the complete lack of it, there is one other very good reason being offered for this: their relationship. Whatever they might claim, the pair don't get on and this is why Faldo may, just may, have been so relieved that Montgomerie has played so awfully of late. If the Englishman needed any justification to bench the Scotsman for the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1991 then his golf is exactly it. A team specialist he might be; a fairway specialist he no longer is. An era seems about to receive the black curtain treatment in Perthshire.
Not that Montgomerie sees it in such stark terms. He has raged against most things in his career – noisy supporters, meddling marshalls, butterflies with flatulence problems – so why not the dying of the light? While his friends confess that he is resigned to missing out on a ninth appearance, he put on a spirited show of defiance when marching into the media centre yesterday. "Hopefully, I'm past the stage of justifying my Ryder Cup potential," said the 45-year-old. "Everybody, and I'm sure I speak for the Ryder Cup captain as well, understands my love for the Ryder Cup. It's how I'll be remembered if you like. So there is no resignation on my behalf at all."
Montgomerie then went on to detail how in his two weeks off since equalling his worst score in a major – 84 at the USPGA at Oakland Hills – he has been hard at it. "To get selected, I think I've got to show some form, of course," he said. "And I feel much more confident having practised here last week."
But if all that labour – which has involved him spending an uncharacteristically long time on the range – does amount to nought would he be prepared to take an assistant's role to Faldo and still bring his legendary influence in the team-room to bear? "No, I'd consider getting my game ready to make sure I make it in 2010," he said. "Bernhard Langer did that when he was left out in 1999. He told me at the time that he was determined to make sure he was on the next team and that would be my goal."
Stirring stuff. Except, as is his way, Monty changed his tack somewhat a little while later. When being interviewed by a BBC Five Live reporter, who asked the same question about vice-captaincy in Kentucky, Montgomerie replied: "I would help the European cause in any way, shape or form I can. Potentially, I would say yes."
Alas, Faldo, in his own mind, would likely have already said "no". A new gaffer eager to stamp his authority in a successful dressing room would not normally be inclined to invite in the player who has bestrode their ranks like no other, even if he was his best buddy. He is not Faldo's best buddy, the rumour is that Poulter is Faldo's best buddy, and although Montgomerie was being as diplomatic as he could when giving his own take on Poulter's late withdrawal from this, the last qualifying competition, he could not resist at least one subtle swipe. "He seems to have had a hotline to Nick Faldo for a while according what I'm reading in the press," said Montgomerie.
Faldo might not appreciate that remark, but then, he has not appreciated a few other remarks attributed to Montgomerie. Allegedly, this is at the heart of the communication breakdown between the pair, which has soured an association that had such promising beginnings when they forged their successful partnership at the 1993 Ryder Cup. To be fair to Montgomerie, he was merely offering a far from controversial opinion when announcing that he did not think it such a good idea for a captain to name his assistant early (as Faldo did with Jose Maria Olazabal and the later-to-resign, Paul McGinley). And indeed, when pointing out the thankless task awaiting Faldo. ("For Nick it's almost a shame that Europe's been so successful," said Monty. "He's got a hard job, while the American captain has nothing to lose.")
Fast forward a few months to the Seve Trophy in Ireland last October and it was Faldo delivering the verbals. "Monty's a tough one," said Faldo in a newspaper interview, after captaining the GB and Ireland team in his Ryder Cup dress rehearsal. "He was the only one whose emotions I had to deal with. He only came to two of the five team meetings, so that was disappointing. Then he had to be teased out on to the 18th green to support his team-mates."
Inevitably, these inflammable quotes earned some air-time and just as inevitably, Montgomerie was to have his own say. "If anyone has any views, especially my commitment to a team event, it seems very strange to go to the press, very strange," he countered. "To go in public, I don't think that's the right way to do anything."
The problem for Montgomerie, however, is that in golf there has long been a right way and a Faldo way and, for once, both seem to be working against his inclusion. Despite his mission to make the biennial dust-up in Newport in two years time (he will knocking on 48 by then), he appears doomed to be stuck on an individual haul of 23.5 points, which is just 1.5 points behind the all-time top Ryder Cup point-scorer... you guessed it, Nick Faldo. Yet there are a few records that Montgomerie does hold, of which he is understandably proud.
"Being the only European that's won Five Ryder Cups. Well, I'm very honoured to be that person," he said. "My whole career has been based around the European Tour and I'm very, very proud to be part of its success." For this reason he claims he will be an avid viewer should Sunday's verdict go against him. "I wouldn't run away from anything," he said. "I would be watching and hoping the team would do as well as it possibly can and make it four wins in a row."
Yet it would hurt, not least because if he was picked he is certain the competition he loves above all others would rekindle the old Monty magic. "It's obvious that the Ryder Cup has brought the best out in me," he said. "Everybody tells me 'Well, why don't you just play the way you do in the Ryder Cup?' As Tom Lehman said recently, 'We'd be delighted if Monty is not playing.' I think that says a lot."
Lehman's successor, Paul Azinger, put a different slant on this earlier in the year, saying that he prayed for Montgomerie to be at Valhalla. "A lot of Americans want to see Monty feel the other side for a change," said Azinger. Montgomerie laughed at that, taking it as a compliment. "All I can say is I wish Paul was picking the team," he said at the time. But he is not and even if Azinger was it would probably not help him greatly. Unless, of course, he could produce one last victory here. If nothing else, "Monty's last stand" would give his pal Faldo one torrid Sunday evening.
Three iron displays: Monty's most memorable Ryder Cup moments
1993 THE BELFRY
Montgomerie feels he has arrived when Nick Faldo asks the captain Bernard Gallacher if he can partner the 30-year-old over the first two days. "A lot of what I've achieved in golf stems from watching people like Seve [Ballesteros], [Bernhard] Langer and Faldo in action at the Ryder Cup," Montgomerie said. "By the second match they were so helpful I really felt part of the team. Nick asked if he could be my partner and I can't tell you what a boost it was to have the world's best player say that. I felt he was telling me: 'I'm around, there's no need to worry'."
2002 THE BELFRY
Monty beats Scott Hoch 5&4 in first of the final-day singles to lead a European comeback. "This is probably the highlight of my Ryder Cup career. On Saturday night, Sam [Torrance] told me he had a plan and when I knew what it was [Torrance put him out first to lead the European fightback], I replied: 'You bastard'. I never slept at all that night. Sam placed a lot of responsibility on my shoulders and I can't tell you how proud I was. It was certainly the best I have played in the Ryder Cup."
2004 OAKLAND HILLS
Monty holes a putt on the final hole to win the singles and seal Europe's crushing victory. "I've always said that one of the 24 guys in the Ryder Cup is going to hole the winning putt and on this occasion Lady Fortune played her part and it was me who was given the opportunity and I took it. That singles win over David Toms, in fact that whole week, rejuvenated me and my career and I went on to win the Order of Merit the following year. It's funny how things work out, but that in turn helped me qualify for this team."
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