COLIN Montgomerie is adamant that Rory McIlroy will have “laughed off” his two four-putt disasters at the same hole last weekend but reckons the world No 1 might not be the man selected to strike Europe’s opening blow in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
Speaking at the opening of a new Maggie’s Centre in a building named after his mother, Elizabeth Montgomerie, at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie, the winning 2010 captain also tipped compatriot Stephen Gallacher to be one of the top points-scorers for Paul McGinley’s team in Perthshire in just over a fortnight’s time.
While it was a summer of highs for McIlroy as he bookended three wins in a row by claiming both the Open Championship and US PGA Championship, the Northern Irishman suffered something of a blip on Saturday and Sunday when he four-putted the par-3 12th in both the third and final rounds in the BMW Championship in Denver.
In the same tournament, the penultimate leg of the FedEx Cup Play-Offs, Sergio Garcia, another of the automatic qualifiers for the European team, laid up at the par-5 17th then clumsily chipped into the water to kill off his title hopes with a triple-bogey 8 and was subsequently branded a “choker” by TV pundit Johnny Miller.
“That was just a complete head-off,” said Montgomerie in addressing the McIlroy moments first. “A lack of concentration caused it. But these things happen and he will have laughed it off.
“As for someone questioning Sergio, he’s shown mental strength by the fact he played in the Ryder Cup at Medinah two years ago and is in the European team again for this match.
“Four years ago, when I was the captain at Celtic Manor. I think it was very important for Sergio’s career that he accepted a vice-captaincy at 30 – the youngest ever, I believe. He used that experience to move on. It was the right thing for him to do for his ongoing career and he’s one of Europe’s stalwarts now.”
Speaking from experience, Montgomerie believes McGinley will already have an idea about his pairings for the opening session a fortnight on Friday, when the Scot reckons the obvious temptation is to put McIlroy out first with Graeme McDowell.
“That was the same opening pairing for Europe two years ago and you’ve got to be thinking of that again,” he added. “But, because I’m thinking that and others will be, too, hopefully he [McGinley] won’t do it and he’ll throw something else in.
“What about [Justin] Rose and [Ian] Poulter going out first? Garcia and Henrik Stenson might also work well together. It’s a great team, so Paul has got some good pairings up his sleeve and, to be honest, anyone is capable of playing that first game.
“He’ll have an eight in his mind for the opening session, as I did, and practice will hopefully just confirm that feeling he has. He had a job to leave out Luke Donald [from his wild cards] and now he’s got a job to leave out another four on the opening morning. It’s not the easiest thing to do because everyone will want to play on the Friday morning.”
Reflecting on his own debut in 1991 – the first of eight playing appearances – Montgomerie said he expects Gallacher and the other two European rookies, Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson, to all be feeling nervous with the match now so close.
“Every golf shot they hit between now and then, they’ll be thinking, ‘is that the one I’m going to hit at the seventh at Gleneagles on a particular day’. Having been there, I know what they are thinking,” he said.
Asked what impact he felt Gallacher’s wild card selection would have, Montgomerie responded: “I wouldn’t say it is giving Europe any more advantage than we have already, but Stephen’s inclusion is definitely a boost.
“I’m delighted he’s in the team. He’d have been my first pick and I think he was ahead of Poulter and (Lee) Westwood, to be honest. I feel that his performance over the last two months warranted his position on that team.
“It is great for Scottish golf and I expect to see Stephen being one of our top points-scorers – he is playing as well as that and also has a record on the PGA Centenary Course that is second to none.”
Buoyant after back-to-back wins on the European Senior Tour – the first a successful title defence at Woburn, the other a victory in Russia – Montgomerie said it was “humbling” to open the new Maggie’s Centre in Lanarkshire.
It is the second such facility – the other one is Aberdeen – to be built in Scotland in partnership with the Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation, which the eight-times European No 1 set up in memory of his mother after she died from cancer.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if I was winning or losing at golf at the moment as this is a special day,” declared Montgomerie as he was joined at the opening by his wife, Gaynor, and his 85-year-old father, James.
“Cancer hits nearly one in two of us,” he added. “We have the highest rate of cancer in this area in the whole of western Europe, not just Scotland, so this is very much required.
“People talk about dreams becoming a reality, but it is true in this case. Having been through this myself with my mum’s illness, you realise these centres are much required, so it means the world to me and my family to see mum’s name helping others in their time of need.”