And so, the battle lines are drawn. The talking (and the tweeting) has stopped and now two old enemies step onto a verdant arena to slug it out for the biggest prize in Golf. War might be a strong word for a contest played in smart trousers but try pointing out the triviality of the Ryder Cup to the 50,000 strong crowds that will line the fairways at Celtic Manor.
USA Captain Corey Pavin has certainly sought to inflate the importance of the tournament drawing on those well worn touchstones of American culture, patriotism and the military, in a bid to inspire his team. He invited former F-16 pilot and Iraq veteran Major Dan Rooney to give a motivational speech to his players yesterday. Quite what they were intended to take from his speech detailing life on the front line of modern combat remains a mystery. Last year Nick Faldo’s inspirational ace in the hole was none other than DJ and golfing fanatic Spooney, deployed as an unofficial vice captain to be on “cool, chilling music duties” . The differences between American and European culture have never been more marked.
Now the trivia, the build up and the minutiae of the preamble stops. Finally we get to see some golf and, more importantly, who the captains will be selecting to play on the crucial opening day. Colin Montgomerie, so often the talismanic figure who went out early doors, has selected a brilliant opening pairing of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. Respectively they are the most experienced and in form players for Europe and should put together a strong round. Paired against them by Pavin are two players of a similar ilk; the vastly experienced Phil Mickleson and the big hitting youngster Dustin Johnson. American captains have often made the mistake of simply pairing their two biggest or most experienced names. Perhaps Mickleson and his younger compatriot will share some real chemistry rather than just a close proximity in the order of merit list.
Elsewhere the two Northern Irishmen, McDowell and McIlroy, form the second partnership in a decision that was probably easier for Montgomery than what to have for breakfast this morning. The two share a friendship off the course beyond their shared nationality and are also two of Europe’s top performers. Should they string some birdies together early on Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar could find their momentum, augmented no doubt by huge support from the galleries, difficult to stop.
The most intriguing match of the day involves, unsurprisingly, Tiger Woods. Speculation that he wouldn’t even be picked as a wildcard looks ridiculous now as he lines up with Steve Stricker against Ross Fisher and Ian Poulter. Poulter will know what is feels like to come in to a Ryder Cup with doubts cast on your ability – he admitted in a recent interview to “cutting himself off from the world” in the face of criticism regarding his inclusion in 2008. He confounded any adverse opinion in Valhalla, turning in an outstanding performance as Europe’s Man of the Match, and will hope to act as Europe’s lynchpin again this time around.
Padraig Harrington has received similar treatment to that of Poulter this time around. After defending his major title he is yet to rediscover the form that made him a dominant force in world golf. This Ryder Cup will either act as a redemptive force for his game or exacerbate existing weaknesses. The steady hand of Luke Donald alongside him should steady his nerves.
The Ryder Cup can’t be won on the first day but the tone can certainly be set for the weekend. Colin Montgomery will be desperate to get off to a good start. For a man whose temperament never quite matched his talent at crucial moments in his career this competition offers a chance at a lasting legacy. Should he reclaim the Ryder Cup for Europe I’d imagine the missed opportunities in majors would hurt a good deal less.
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