NEWPORT, Wales -- Colin Montgomerie began Ryder Cup week with calm assurances that he hadn't toyed with the course setup at Celtic Manor as a means of giving his team any perceived advantage.
Well, maybe not personally.
|Colin Montgomerie says he didn't do any plotting to set the course up for his European team. (AP)|
"Are they slow enough?" Monty asked.
He didn't mean the pace of play, either. Guess there's a slim line between Monty business and monkey business.
When the underdog Americans tee off Friday morning, fans are fast going to find that the greens are unusually slow and the rough is unusually high, two elements that should clearly favor the Europeans, who are seeking to win back the cup they lost in 2008.
Off the tee, the U.S. squad arrived this week to find that while the fairway widths at Celtic Manor look comparable to the setup at the European Tour's annual Wales Open played at the same venue, there were some not-so-subtle differences from what they have grown accustomed to seeing in the States.
There's grass -- and plenty of it. With five players on the U.S. roster who rank in the top 30 in driving distance on the PGA Tour, the graduated rough is going to become an issue if anybody takes a sideways tour of the Welsh countryside.
"The rough is so thick out there, they are worried about our captains driving carts in the rough so that they didn't knock it down," U.S. veteran Jim Furyk said. "I joked in our team meeting that maybe they are afraid of losing a couple carts in it because it's about as thick and as long and difficult as I've ever seen in my career.
"So, length is great, but if you can't put it in play, it's not so good. But the fairways are amply wide. They are big enough, but you sure don't want to miss one."
Colin Byrne, a veteran caddie on the U.S. and European tours who is working for Sweden's Peter Hanson this week, said the course setup looks about the same as it does during the Wales Open.
"Pretty much identical," Byrne said, "but just better."
Greener, in other words, because the rough has been fertilized. In 2008, U.S. captain Paul Azinger ordered the fairways at Valhalla widened and the rough trimmed back to let his longer American players put their power advantage to good use. Each home-team captain has the right to dial in the course according to personal whim.
Monty said Monday that he avoided the temptation of tinkering, which isn't to say the end result doesn't suit his team a bit better.
"I think what he said yesterday is what's out there," U.S captain Corey Pavin said earlier this week. "The rough is thick. It's hard to get out of, but the fairways are the same widths as they were for the Wales Open when I played a year and a half ago.
"It's set up very fairly. It's going to reward good play, and shots that are off the fairway in this rough, you're going to be penalized. It kind of reminds me a lot of maybe the way the PGA is set up a little bit, the PGA Championship. How you play is what you're going to get out of it."
Of course, a major championship would have green speeds approaching 13 feet or so on the Stimpmeter, the device that measures how fast balls roll on the putting surface. That's a good 10 or 15 percent quicker than the Celtic Manor greens will be running Friday. Whether it was by design or not, the Ryder greens began the week running at 10½ feet on the Stimp.
Think back to the British Open, when the No. 1 hurdle for guys like Tiger Woods -- he eventually swapped out a putter he had used for more than a decade to address the problem -- was slowness of the St. Andrews greens. He never really adjusted. In fact, Americans were nowhere to be seen at the top of the final leaderboard.
If there is one truism at the Ryder Cup, it's that the team that makes the most putts always hoists the trophy on Sunday night.
"I haven't played on The European Tour ... but for the British Opens I've been at, for the Ryder Cups I've been at, the greens speeds are adequate, but they are not quick," Furyk said.
That might not be a negative, necessarily, but it's predicated on the Americans making adjustments. With five rookies, including gung-ho first-timers like Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Jeff Overton, slower and softer greens will theoretically prove helpful. "It also allows for very aggressive play," Furyk said. "Last week, I was at the Tour Championship and the greens were so quick and pretty undulating in spots, and you're hitting a lot of putts defensively, which doesn't sound like a Ryder Cup. "You think aggressive at Ryder Cup, making birdies, charging. And you set up the greens where you can be aggressive and not worry about knocking it 5, 6 feet by all the time. Maybe the setup is more that way to promote aggressive play."
Besides, Furyk pointed out that four of the European players are full members of the U.S. tour, so they have to make the same throttle adjustments on the greens, too.
"A lot of their players play in the United States as much or more than they play here, so you know, for [PGA Tour members] Paddy or Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, green speed, I don't know if it's really a benefit either way," he said.
Watson, as long as they come off the tee, guessed that he would hit four to five drivers daily because it's not worth the risk of going into the rough or bunkers situated in the landing area. Clearly, the U.S. power edge has been neutralized to some extent. The damp course plays longer than the 7,378 yards it measures on paper, though tees are expected to be moved around on several holes.
"Nobody has asked my opinion but I'm going to tell it," Watson said. "Golf courses are going longer, but they are not letting you hit longer tee shots. They are still putting bunkers, rough, something in the way, where you have to lay back. "On this golf course, you have to lay back a lot. You can try to bomb it in the 10-yard wide fairway, but for the most part it's just about hitting fairways and we are going to hit mid to long irons into the par-3s and the par-4s."