COLIN Montgomerie has hailed the “street fighter” qualities of Ian Poulter after watching the Englishman take over from him as Europe’s Ryder Cup talisman.
While different characters in most respects, Montgomerie and Poulter certainly share a passion for pulling on a European sweater in the biennial bout against the Americans.
Many of the finest moments in Montgomerie’s career came in the Ryder Cup and now Poulter is heading into this week’s clash at Gleneagles with the best recent record of anyone on either team.
In four previous appearances, the 38-year-old has chalked up 12 wins from 15 matches – the best percentage record in the event’s history.
Asked if Poulter’s strike rate was down to him having a street-fighter mentality, Montgomerie said: “I think so. And that’s a real compliment when it comes to the Ryder Cup.
Seve [Ballesteros] was a street fighter, too, and that’s a compliment to Seve as well. Corey Pavin was the same for the Americans, and that’s a compliment to him.
“You know, it takes a certain character to be a great Ryder Cup player and Poulter has that character.”
Never was that more evident than the Saturday afternoon at Medinah two years ago, when Poulter birdied the last five holes to secure a vital point and galvanise Europe to pull off their record-equalling comeback in the singles the following day.
“I don’t think I got that emotional, but, at the same time, possibly internally I did,” added Montgomerie when asked about the similarities between him and Poulter in the event. “I loved the competition, the way Ian does.
“His record has been fantastic and I don’t think the Americans would want to be paired against him, to be honest, because he has this ability to pull out certain shots and hole certain putts that nobody in the last ten years has holed and long may that continue.
“You talk about him and you talk about Seve, and the way they’ve helped our team to success. Without his Saturday (contribution) in 2012, I don’t think Europe can win the Ryder Cup. From 10-4, it became 10-6 and that gave us momentum that we needed to go into Sunday.”
While Montgomerie carved out his glittering career on the back of being a decorated amateur, Poulter played off four when he joined the pro ranks 20 years ago. As a PGA trainee, he worked in the pro shop at Chesfield Downs in Hertfordshire, selling Mars bars and tees, but always had a dogged determination to become a Tour player.
“Ian’s way to the top of the game came very differently from a number of us,” reflected Montgomerie. “A number of us went to the Tour schools and then went to tournament golf. Ian was in a pro shop and I think the bloody mindedness comes from, ‘I’m going to show these guys, that a club pro can do this’.
“He certainly has, and that gives him an edge over the so-called tournament pros that were embodied in the game very early on. You’ve got to have that edge to be No 1 player at the last four Ryder Cups.
“I hated losing more than I loved winning, especially when it was one-to-one, and that helped me not to lose. I think the same goes for Poulter.”
Making his ninth appearance, Lee Westwood will be easily the most experienced campaigner, at least as far as the 12 players are concerned, in the European team room. According to Montgomerie, though, Poulter had also earned the right to be respected by his team-mates in the home side’s hub.
“I think when Poulter walks into the room, when he comes and sits down and says something, I think the other 11 guys and the captain will be listening to him,” said the eight-times European No 1. “Paul McGinley will be hoping that Poulter will be saying things in the team room to rouse the team up for Friday morning, or for any morning. And I think that’s good, I think that’s very good, for someone who has that character who has proven himself over the last eight years in this Ryder Cup, to be the best player. He has the most points and the best percentage of wins. I think that he is definitely someone that the team can listen to.”
Even if what they are hearing might not be too tactful? “Definitely,” declared Montgomerie. “Say we’re down, he won’t be saying things you want to hear, he’ll be saying things you need to hear. Like ‘get out there and perform, and show them’.”
Montgomerie picked out Keegan Bradley and Patrick Reed as the “street fighters” in the USA team. He also described Hunter Mahan as a “very tough” competitor and believes Phil Mickelson, on his tenth appearance, will be their “on-course leader”.
However, it’s the presence of Tom Watson as captain and someone like Ray Floyd, one of the fiercest Ryder Cup competitors, in his backroom team that the 2010 winning captain says should serve as a warning to McGinley and his players about this being a tough match to win.
“We might be favourites, we are playing at home and all the rest of it, but Tom Watson and Ray Floyd are fighters, too,” he said. “They won’t be coming to finish second – that’s why it’s going to be a great Ryder Cup again.”
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