Colin Montgomerie may have the reputation of the most uncompromising of Ryder Cup competitors, but there plainly is a trace of the Corinthian running through this team animal. Unlike certain past captains – in particular, Paul Azinger two years ago – Montgomerie has not exercised his right to "trick up" the course to favour his men.
Indeed, when the US team arrive at Celtic Manor a week tomorrow for the 38th staging of the biennial dust-up, they will be pleasantly surprised to discover a test which is not decked in the blue and gold of Europe. "Monty's Manor" it may well be, but he wants his side to dominate their own backyard in a truly sporting fashion.
"Monty's made it clear that the course will be set up fairly and the team who plays the best will go home as winners," said Jim Mckenzie, the director of golf at the 7,400-yard layout. "Monty's input has been very minimal. He has steered away from any 'tricking up' and I think he should be applauded for it."
Montgomerie will no doubt be given a standing ovation if Europe win back the Cup; but should they lose the only thing left standing will be the firing squad. Ever since 2002 when the ultra-shrewd skipper Sam Torrance narrowed the fairways to pale green slithers at the 290-yard mark where Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson would drive, the tailoring of the set-up has become accepted captain practice.
At the K Club four years ago, Ian Woosnam negated the opponents' superiority with the flop shot by cutting back all the rough around the greens. "Suddenly it became pitch and putt or the ball went into the bunkers," recalled McKenzie. "Woosie levelled the playing field." Yet it was Azinger who took the home battlefield ploy to new heights, or in the opinion of some, "depths". Azinger did the reverse of Torrance and widened the fairways at the 310-yard mark for the boomers in his team and made it ever wider at 350 yards for his blaster, J B Holmes. He did not stop there, however. Not only did he ensure the height of the rough suited his team – with his notorious "Azinger cut" – he even took his axe to the Valhalla trees. Holmes feared he would drive into a limb 30 feet up in a tree which happened to be 300 yards off the tee-box. No problem. The limb was quickly amputated.
Apparently there will be none of that malarkey from Montgomerie, although the natural features of the Twenty Ten Course will likely be to the Europeans' favour anyway. The rain is one thing, the thick wet rough another. On paper the home side have the straighter hitters, which in McKenzie's opinion will be a boost. "I think the premium will be on keeping the ball on the short stuff off the tee," he said. And then there are the greens, which will obviously be slower than those in the US. This is where Padraig Harrington believes Europe will enjoy the greatest advantage.
"That is a distinct issue that the US guys will have," said the Dubliner. "The greens will be the perfect pace for us." Not that Harrington is too gung-ho with his predictions. Yesterday he explained the comments he made about the captains deciding the outcome of what he believes will be an agonisingly close contest. "The Ryder Cup captaincy has been becoming more important in recent years," said the wild-card pick.
"The course may be to our advantage but it will be which captain gets the most out of his team at this Ryder Cup who will walk away as the winner. In fact, I think the captain is more important than the players. If Monty can get his pairings right and the atmosphere right and gets it going, I think we will win and vice-versa for Corey Pavin. The captain can be decisive in this."
As ever the biggest challenge to Montgomerie and Pavin will be managing the egos. In this regard Harrington went further than most in explaining the problems provided by the petulant. "There is a lot behind the scenes in any team," he said. "There are some people who are good in the team room and will add to the points tally of the team by being there regardless of their own performances. There are others who can be successful on the golf course and yet can be detrimental behind the scenes."
Harrington was mentioning no names but it is inevitable people will make their own deductions of the identity(ies) of the troublemaker(s). The three-time major winner admits he has been upset by actions of team members in the past, although whether these came in a Ryder Cup team room remains unknown. The following cryptic statement will only deepen the intrigue.
"What a player does behind the scenes can have a huge effect on the team out on the course," he said. "A player goes out there and he plays great and his partner plays OK, maybe hitting a bad shot coming down the stretch and they lose and then behind that player's back he is digging the knife in, complaining to the captain. That player is damaging the team. Even though he is playing good golf he is doing more harm than good."