Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Montgomerie has an eye on Ryder Cup: Royal Trophy will give captain an insight into his team’s capabilities

First stop in 2010 this week of what promises to be a rollercoaster ride for Colin Montgomerie, Europe’s Ryder Cup 2010 captain, en route to Wales in October, is the unlikely venue of the Amata Spring course in Thailand.

Since he took on the job, Montgomerie has been complaining he has hardly had a minute to himself. “There always seems to be something needing done,” he said, and he can’t expect any respite in south-east Asia where Europe will attempt to win back the Royal Trophy from Asia.

The Scot is not only captaining the side but also playing. Having tumbled to world No.255, he is hardly there on current form, but you can’t accuse the eight-time Ryder Cup 2010 player, unbeaten in singles in that time, of being short on experience.

Montgomerie will attempt the impossible, of playing at peak form while watching every shot of every other player in his team and detecting every giveaway sign of strength or weakness.

“My eye is on matchplay, who is confident, who looks as if they can hold themselves under pressure. I’m watching everyone this year,” said Montgomerie in a pre-tournament interview, while adding: “I can still compete at this level and I want to be able to do that still.”

You worry that he might self-combust but, relax, folks. He has ruled himself out of a playing role in the Ryder Cup 2010 itself at Celtic Manor, even if he wins the Open at St Andrews, and who’s going to tell him he won’t? But he is anxious to see Europe get off to a flier. “It’s very important for us to get back to winning ways,” he said.

The eight-a-side match that starts on Friday and ends on Sunday and features foursomes, fourballs and singles just like the Ryder Cup 2010 is still well short of what you might call a dress rehearsal.

In addition to Montgomerie, the side features Swedes Henrik Stenson, Robert Karlsson, Alexander Noren and Peter Hanson, Dane Soren Kjeldsen, Spaniard Pablo Martin and England’s Simon Dyson, fine players all but lacking in the firepower you would hope to see at Wales.

Stenson and Karlsson are certainly players with nothing to prove in the Ryder Cup 2010 cauldron, but notable absentees are Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington.

Dyson, winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews last year, is currently in the frame for a Ryder Cup debut and he could be a talisman in Thailand. Nine years ago, he was winner of the Asian Tour order of merit.

You can’t blame Montgomerie for looking for every fillip he can get, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone is going to read much into a possible defeat for Europe against a useful-looking Asian side that is minus US PGA champion Yong-Eun Yang but otherwise couldn’t be much stronger.

Japan’s top two, Ryo Ishikawa and Yuta Ikeda, will be joined by European Tour players Thongchai Jaidee and India’s Jeev Milkha Singh in the Asian side captained by Naomichi “Joe” Ozaki.

Completing the team are Korea’s Charlie Wi, Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng, and China’s leading player Wen-Chong Liang.

In the heat of the weekend battle look out for images of Montgomerie mopping a fevered brow and carrying the world, or at least all of Europe, on his broad shoulders.

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