MONTY COULDN'Tadmit it, not out loud. Maybe the most dominating player in Ryder Cuphistory—he has never lost in singles, and his overall record is 20-9-7—had cometo the PGA Championship on a tryout basis. Colin Montgomerie, the warriorScotsman swaddled in cashmere, has been the "stalwart" (Jim Furyk'sword) in all those European wins in the Bush-Clinton-Bush years. But his 2008campaign had been a slog, and to make this year's team on points or as acaptain's pick, he had to do something sparkly at Oakland Hills. His Thursdayround, a six-over 76, only hurt his chances, and now it was Friday—his lastchance, realistically. Nick Faldo, the European captain, was in a trailer inthe CBS compound. He watched Monty miss from four feet. Faldo shook his head. ¬∂The linebacker-sized Englishman, in a trailer that could barely contain him,started counting on his meaty fingers: "Ninety-one, '93, '95, '97, '99,'02, '04, '06," Faldo said. He nodded at his outstretched hands. "One,two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight—he's played in eight straight."It was as if the CBS commentator, Hall of Fame player and course designer hadnever considered Monty's Ryder Cup record before, and maybe he hadn't. Faldo,who has appeared in more Ryder Cups (11) and won more Ryder Cup points (25)than anybody else, witnessed the Monty years firsthand.
This is an article from the Aug. 18, 2008 issue
"It doesn'tlook very good for him for this year, does it?" somebody said.
"Well, it'snot completely out of the question, but the bottom line is he'sstruggling," Faldo said. "His stats don't look good. He's 45. He's beena strong Ryder Cup player." It sounded as if he were preparingMontgomerie's Ryder Cup obituary as a player. He'll have a second life as aEuropean captain someday, in either 2010, when the matches will be played inWales, or 2014, when they'll be in Scotland.
But for '08 Faldohas a nice problem, and Montgomerie is not likely part of the solution. OnLabor Day, Faldo will announce his 12-man team for the Sept. 19--21 matches atValhalla Golf Club in Louisville. Ten guys will make it on a points formula offtwo separate lists, one that tracks European tour play, the other worldwideplay. Faldo will be left to handpick two players. Padraig Harrington, theBritish Open and PGA champion, has been lobbying for Faldo to pick Montgomerie.In 2004 the Ryder Cup was played at Oakland Hills, and Monty—skinny withanxiety, going through a difficult divorce and playing indifferently—was chosenfor the team by Bernhard Langer, the European captain. In the first match onFriday, Harrington and Montgomerie defeated Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson 2and 1, and the U.S. team never got over the shock. But that was four yearsago.
This year captainFaldo might have to use picks to get Ian Poulter or Paul Casey or MartinKaymer, young players with dependable putting strokes, on the team. He couldpick the old boy—Monty's fluffy hair, once blond, is now silver—but it would besurprising.
Paul Azinger, theU.S. captain, has an even more difficult problem (but one of his own making).He wanted four picks instead of the traditional two that captains have had foryears, and he wanted more time to make them. The captain's two choices oncewere announced the day after the PGA Championship. This year they'll bereleased on Sept. 2, the day after the European team is announced. Azinger willappear in a hotel meeting room in midtown Manhattan and name his four guys(chart, left).
With No. 1 Woodsout recuperating from knee surgery, Nos. 2 through 9 were solidified at OaklandHills. Ben Curtis's tie for second vaulted him to No. 8 and knocked SteveStricker to 10th. The only way Stricker—or Woody Austin or Rocco Mediate orSean O'Hair or Brandt Snedeker or anybody else outside the automatic eight—isgoing to Valhalla is as one of Azinger's four captain's picks. These are theplayers who are now officially being outfitted for team uniforms: Mickelson;Stewart Cink, who missed the cut in the PGA; Kenny Perry, who withdrew becauseof an eye injury; Jim Furyk; Anthony Kim; Justin Leonard; Curtis; and BooWeekley, who shot a final-round 66 to help secure his spot.
When J.B. Holmeswas leading the PGA last Saturday afternoon, Azinger made no secret of the factthat he hoped the long-bombing, slow-playing Kentuckian would make the team.But Holmes closed with an 81 and finished 18th on the points list, and willhave to play some inspired golf over the next three weeks to have a chance ofbeing picked. The all-European one-two finish of Harrington and Sergio Garcíaat the PGA, on a quintessentially American course, could not have been welcomenews to Azinger. A guess for Zinger's four picks would be Austin, Mediate, D.J.Trahan and Hunter Mahan, but much will depend on who plays well between now andthe closing bell at the end of August.
BOTH CAPTAINSwere on the scene at Oakland Hills last week, Faldo in the broadcast booth,Azinger in the field and playing all four rounds (he finished 64th), or twomore than Montgomerie. Oakland Hills was the place where Montgomerie's statusin the U.S. changed. His estranged wife was dating a movie star (Hugh Grant),and suddenly Monty seemed like a sympathetic figure. The week in '04 seemed torekindle his career, and two years later he was a runner-up in the U.S. Open atWinged Foot with Furyk and Mickelson. Montgomerie seemed to hole more putts inRyder Cup play than he did in the rest of his career combined.
"He enjoyedhaving other players around him," Montgomerie's former caddie AlistairMcLean said last week. (McLean's current boss, Lee Westwood, will most likelyplay all five matches at Valhalla.) "If a partner was in trouble, he'd say,'Never mind, I'll hole this.' If he didn't, it was only one hole. Match playsuited him."
Monty—likeFaldo—was never one to run around with a crowd of players. But during Ryder Cupplay things were different for him. "He loves to be loved," Faldo said."At the Ryder Cup he had 12 people who loved him." Faldo's take is thesame as McLean's: Being on a team freed up Monty.
Last week, at aplace with good vibes for him, Montgomerie, newly remarried, was all on his ownas he tried to do something good at Oakland Hills. For players who love RyderCup play—a Monty, a Davis Love III, a Fred Couples—trying to make a team isnearly as grueling as contending in a major. Two years ago at the PGA atMedinah, Love tried to play his way onto Tom Lehman's team and came up short,unable, he said later, to make free swings when he knew Lehman was lurkingbehind trees, checking out his candidates. After holing his final shot from abunker at the '99 PGA Championship at Medinah, Couples took an AmericanAirlines flight to Los Angeles and spoke by phone to Ben Crenshaw, the RyderCup captain, while in the air. When Crenshaw told Couples he had chosen othersfor the team, all the color drained from Couples's tanned face.
Monty, with aspot on the line last week, shot an 84 in the second round. Too much at stakeand not nearly enough game, not on that Friday. Not what he was looking for andnot what Faldo was, either. In all likelihood Montgomerie's Ryder Cup streak isover at eight. On Friday he holed a putt on 18 that was almost identical to theputt he holed to win the '04 Ryder Cup. He took off his visor, ran his handthrough his hair and shook the hands of his playing partners, Furyk and AaronBaddeley.
Montgomeriesigned his card and retired to the clubhouse, climbing a set of steps thatfeatured a beautiful sepia-toned photograph of himself playing out a bunker inthe glorious '04 Ryder Cup, a picture so big it practically fills a wall.
Before he steppedinto the clubhouse, he spoke to a group of reporters and was asked about theupcoming matches. "I wasn't thinking about the Ryder Cup out there," hesaid. He wasn't under oath.
An old-gentnewspaperman from Ireland said, "There's an awful lot of people who wantyou to be on the team."
"So I'm noton the team, am I?" Montgomerie said. "Sorry. I didn't realize [youwere] Nick Faldo."
That's when hesplit for the clubhouse. When he will be Stateside again is anybody'sguess.
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