PARAMUS, N.J. -- Because of a five-hour time difference and insurmountable logistics issues, European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie was unable to reach the world's ninth-ranked player before his round in the States on Sunday to impart some sobering news.
Hold the phone, Monty.
By emphasizing team pairings potential over presumably bigger firepower, Monty snubbed PGA Tour veterans Paul Casey and Justin Rose as wild-card picks on the European side, a development that brought perplexed looks and a few scowls to the mugs of fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
|Luke Donald makes the cut but sees problems with a system that leaves top 10 players off the team. (Getty Images)|
For the first time in eight or nine months, the U.S. team looks like it has a pulse heading into the Oct. 1-3 event. Scratch that. For the first time in that span, the Yanks head to Wales with a sure shot at bringing back a souvenir -- that four-pound, 17-inch piece of hardware called the Ryder Cup trophy.
Mercurial Monty didn't necessarily make a mess of his picks Sunday after the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles, Scotland. He was in a tough, effectively unwinnable position. He had three chairs at the dining-room buffet table and five players in the world top 22 who clearly were worthy of sitting with the big boys. Rose and Casey, like kids at Thanksgiving dinner, got seats at the card table in the back of the kitchen with the other youngsters.
Montgomerie selected rookie Edoardo Molinari, who won in rousing fashion Sunday in Scotland to force his hand, plus Ryder veterans Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald. Let the nitpicking about his Brit-picking begin.
Translated into good old American, it means that with the final composition of the evolving Euro roster, the Yanks might be busting out some carving knives after all, despite being perceived as heavy underdogs just a few weeks ago. That has all changed in a fortnight.
No question, the Euros are an accomplished lot, but six of the 12 are Ryder rookies, and no amount of Scottish spin control can change the fact that the Ryder tends to make Alpha males run to the port-a-potty on every tee box. Ian Poulter this week said the Ryder was like "taking two years of majors" and compressing them into one event.
"There is no comparison to anything else in golf, none," said Poulter, who made the team on merit.
I don't care how good Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Ross Fisher, Peter Hanson and the brotherly tag-tandem of Francesco and Edoardo Molinari are. This is a whole new world of pain and suffering for first-timers, home-field advantage at Celtic Manor or not.
"My first time?" Tiger Woods said Sunday. "It was certainly interesting. Luckily I had my big brother [Mark O'Meara] as my partner the first two matches."
Francesco has little brother Edoardo, who earned a pick with one of the most scintillating finishes in years Sunday by making birdies on the final three holes at the Johnnie Walker to win by a shot. But vestal virgins are what they are -- unpredictable and hard to protect. Sending the Molinaris, the defending World Cup pair, out as a team at the Ryder sounds great.
|Lee Westwood||England||No. 3|
|Martin Kaymer||Germany||No. 5|
|Rory McIlroy||N. Ireland||No. 7|
|Luke Donald||England||No. 10|
|Ian Poulter||England||No. 11|
|Graeme McDowell||N. Ireland||No. 13|
|Padraig Harrington||Ireland||No. 18|
|Edoardo Molinari||Italy||No. 21|
|Ross Fisher||England||No. 28|
|Francesco Molinari||Italy||No. 38|
|Miguel Angel Jimenez||Spain||No. 39|
|Peter Hanson||Sweden||No. 40|
|World ranking as of Aug. 25|
But they are sending guppies to Wales.
As for the gang defending the cup, of the eight U.S. picks already cemented in place, four are rookies. Pavin makes his four wild-card picks Sept. 7. It's hard to envision him taking on less-experienced players over guys like captain's pick candidates Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink or Zach Johnson.
Oh, and in case you missed it, Woods looks like he's starting to find some answers after an entire season spent wandering in the forest, not even knowing the questions.
The upheaval on the Euro roster over the past couple of weeks was notable, and in a vacuum, are positive developments for the American side. Swede Peter Hanson -- a guy most fans could not pick out of a lineup of the three Euro Tour guys named Hansen or Hanson -- eked his way on with a win last week. He bumped Casey, who played in the final group of the British Open six weeks ago.
Miguel Angel Jimenez, with a career Ryder mark of 2-7-3, clawed his way back on the team late, too. Now let's eyeball the state of crucial veterans. Lee Westwood, the best player in the world right now regardless of what the rankings state, will be coming off a six-week layoff in an attempt to nurse a nagging calf ailment that prompted him to skip the PGA Championship. He's by no means a certainty and Monty was asked several times Sunday to lay out his plan for a stand-in, should Westy be unable to start.
Then there's Harrington, who was picked moistly on laurels. Of course, those don't score many points in a team affair, do they?
"Padraig Harrington has won three major championships in the last three years," Monty said, wrongly.
Harrington has won three majors in four years, but hasn't won a single tour event anywhere since August 2008 and has dropped to No. 18 in the world.
"The stature of Padraig, he is someone we feel that nobody in match-play golf wants to play," Monty explained.
As they say in Thomas Levet's country, au contraire. Harrington is a beloved figure throughout the game, and especially in the European team room, but his addition to the team could be just as popular in the Yanks' quarters. After all, Harrington is 0-7-2 in his past two Ryder Cups and has been blown out in the first round in the Accenture Match Play Championships in 2009-10. In fact, he and Westwood failed to win a match in 2008.
In a cruel bit of kismet, Harrington and Casey were paired Sunday and on the sixth hole, Padraig's wife Caroline came by and flashed her husband a thumbs-up. He had gotten the nod. Casey noticed and was gutted -- for good reason. It meant a thumbs-down for him.
"It was awkward," Harrington said, noting that Donald's brother Christian is Casey's caddie. "There was never going to be a happy ending in our group."
Casey was bounced out of the top nine in Ryder points last week. As for match-play prowess, Casey was second at the Accenture Match Play Championship the past two years.
The snub hit him hard, understandably so. Casey kept his composure, finished the round, fielded questions from scribes on the snub, then put on his sunglasses and walked over to sign autographs for fans.
Under the shades, his eyes were welling tears and he was barely able to croak out a hoarse answer when approached with an offer of condolences. A rep from his management agency said, as Casey signed for fans to keep his mind occupied, "This is therapeutic for him."
But for the Yanks, trading Harrington for Casey seems a darned good swap, on paper.
Donald, with a 5-1-1 career Ryder mark, is a terrific dance partner in the doubles format, which Monty said was a consideration in all three of his picks. Fair enough. But even after he was picked, the No. 10 player in the world reiterated what he told CBSSports.com a day earlier -- that if guys ranked Nos. 9-10 in the world are not qualifying, something needs fixing.
"I know for the European Tour, if they win, Europe, it's very beneficial for the European Tour both in image and financially," Donald said. "So I think it's in their best interests that they have the best players on the team."
Donald, Harrington, Rose and Casey all took broadsides from across the pond this week for playing in the States vs. the Johnnie Walker, where Lord Monty was camped and watching the incredibly clutch performance by Edoardo Molinari on Sunday, but Donald insisted there was nothing wrong with their tack.
"Your team has to look harder at the qualification system and whether it's the correct way to do it or whether there's a better way," Donald said. "I think golf really is becoming a world game and I understand they won't protect the European Tour, but at the same time, the top guys are going to want to play against the best players in the world no matter what. And shouldn't be penalized for that."
Actually, after the way it all played out, the boys in stars and stripes have no objections to the Euro system at all.