HE was the man everyone wanted to speak to. After a lie in at the plush on-site hotel at Abu Dhabi Golf Club following the previous night’s European Tour tournament committee meeting, Colin Montgomerie appeared on the practice area just after 11.30am and immediately had recorders and microphones stuck under his nose.
So, what was the Scot’s reaction to missing out on being Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for a second time as his fellow committee members decided to hand the 2014 position at Gleneagles to Paul McGinley instead?
There have been times in his career when Montgomerie has let himself down in such media scrums, especially in moments of disappointment. And, despite insisting otherwise, there’s no doubt whatsoever that it will be disappointing for him to miss out on the chance of a return captaincy, not just in Scotland but close to his home in Perthshire.
Not on this occasion, however. He answered questions for around eight minutes with the written press, replied to some more from a radio reporter then did the same for a handful of latecomers before heading out to play in the pro-am on the eve of the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
It was no real surprise, of course, that the 49-year-old didn’t rant and rave about the decision, which cost him the chance to become the first captain to be called back into action on this side of the Atlantic since Welshman Dai Rees. At the time when it was still Great Britain & Ireland, he returned to the frontline in 1967 for a fifth spell at the helm.
Nevertheless, it was credit to Montgomerie that he gave no-one the opportunity to fling any mud at him, having been the first person after Thomas Bjorn, the tournament committee chairman to offer his congratulations to McGinley the night before, when, according to the new captain, Montgomerie had also “said some really nice things to me”.
“I never proposed myself and it was flattering to be proposed again by fellow players,” delared the eight-times European Tour No 1 of a process that took a few twists and turns before its conclusion at the end of the long straight road that leads out to the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort Hotel. “I wasn’t in the picture until about a week before Christmas when I heard others felt there was an opportunity to captain the team at home in Scotland. It would have been a dream come true but it hasn’t happened. I’m not sad about that. The selection process was such that they appointed the best man for the job.
“It was only in the last couple of weeks that my hat has been thrown into the ring by others. I haven’t pressed this in any way, so I was flattered to be in that position.
“We’ll all get behind Paul now. We wish him well. The first player to congratulate him was me. And I’m glad about that because we are all in the same boat. I appointed him as Seve Trophy captain with Thomas Bjorn in 2009 and he did a very good job. And he has done a very good job as vice-captain twice in the Ryder Cup.
“He’s a very good man manager. He’s very good at assessing people’s strengths and I think he’ll be a very good captain. It’s all about preparation. If you’re prepared, you’re ready. One of his attributes is preparation. He was like that as one of my vice-captains. He was very thorough.”
Montgomerie insisted he bore “absolutely no bitterness” towards McGinley but admitted it would take something he’d rather not see happen to give him another chance to continue his own love affair with the Ryder Cup, having gone unbeaten in the singles in eight appearances before leading Europe to victory at Celtic Manor. “It meant a lot to me to be asked again,” he added. “But I’d done it, won it, and that can never be taken away. But that’s probably it for me unless we keep losing and I do a Tom Watson [who’ll be 65 when he leads the Americans at Gleneagles] and come back. Which I do hope doesn’t happen for the sake of the Tour.”
Asked if he’d be up to be one of McGinley’s assistant when Scotland hosts its first Ryder Cup since the 1973 match at Muirfield, Montgomerie left the door open on that one.
McGinley already has an idea who he wants on his backroom team but won’t make any decision on that until nearer the end of the year. “I’ll do anything for the European Tour,” said Montgomerie. “I would love to be involved in anything to do with the Ryder Cup. I’ve devoted my career to the European Tour and any time that anyone asks me to do anything for them, of course I’ll be there.”