Don't heap too much pressure on Rory McIlroy is the salutary message from Colin Montgomerie, who, as European captain, marshalled the 23-year-old's Ryder Cup debut at Celtic Manor. Another strong showing at the series finale of the FedEx Cup play-offs, two of which he won, did nothing to deflect attention from McIlroy en route to Medinah.
The world No 1 has featured heavily in the build-up, drawing a range of wacky comments from all corners that highlight his growing influence and importance to the game. Greg Norman proclaimed McIlroy golf's new heavyweight champ, claiming even Tiger Woods is intimidated now, and former United States captain Paul Azinger urged present incumbent Davis Love III to make the taming of McIlroy central to his strategy this week.
This rampant, Stateside chatter prompted Monty to respond with a subtle yet smart riposte. "I don't think Rory is classified as the team leader yet," he said. "I'd give that role to Lee Westwood, as I did, really, two years ago. I think Lee is the team leader of that group on the course although Rory is [world] No 1. Woods was No 1 for many, many years in the Ryder Cup and a lot of the emphasis, a lot of pressure was put on Tiger to get five points and that's almost damned near impossible to achieve.
"So I do hope that everybody commentating, everybody writing in the media and what have you, don't put too much pressure on McIlroy trying to get five points. Remember we need 14, so we need all 12 players to be playing here. That's why it was great in a number of wins for Europe that we've had down the years – every player contributed at least half a point to the success, which is what we need to win in America, everybody to contribute.
"Yes, he'll win points, of course he will, but in an 18-hole match play it's a very quick game and things could go wrong, so let's not put too much emphasis on him. The way, unfortunately, [Hal] Sutton did in 2004, when he put Woods and [Phil] Mickelson together and it backfired tremendously. So instead of the momentum being gained for America it backfired completely. Let's make sure that we're playing as a 12 and not as a one plus 11."
In America at least the game has been reduced to the Rory v Tiger show. They are regularly grouped in the opening rounds to satisfy the demands of television, the medium which runs the game. Thankfully television executives have no influence in the selection of Ryder Cup line-ups, which is a relief to Montgomerie, who advises against the idea of McIlroy going up against Woods in the singles on Sunday.
"I'd leave Woods alone in America. Yes, everybody wants this to happen. Look what happened to Steven Ames when he played Woods, who said he wasn't playing very well. He lost 9 and 8. Look at what happened to Francesco Molinari when he played Woods, winning the first two holes, he still got heavily beaten. Someone is going to play Woods, of course they have to, but I would leave Woods well alone and don't go anywhere near him, especially in America and playing now to a certain degree an awful lot better than he has been. I would want Rory to be playing someone else in the singles if you don't mind."