THE prospect of Tom Watson returning to his beloved Scotland as a Ryder Cup captain has fairly tickled the fancies of the golfing fraternity yet, according to Colin Montgomerie, it should have no bearing whatsoever on the identity of his counterpart at Gleneagles in 2014.
Irish duo Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley were touted as the two leading candidates for the European post as soon as the dust had settled on the “Miracle at Medinah”, with one set to be appointed early next year.
Montgomerie, the winning captain at Celtic Manor in 2010, believes Clarke is the “slight favourite” based on him being a major champion but he is adamant the vote by the European Tour’s tournament committee shouldn’t be influenced by Watson’s appointment.
“I think the Americans have been very astute in that decision,” said Montgomerie, who was in Glasgow yesterday as the guest of honour at the PGA in Scotland lunch, where he presented a lifetime achievement award to leading golf broadcaster Renton Laidlaw.
“It might be regarded as a risk by some people but he’ll have the popular support in Scotland and he’ll have the respect too. He’s up there with Jack Nicklaus when it comes to having stature and having won four of his five Opens in Scotland will be a big factor.
“So, too, will his performance in the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry and the way he accepted what happened [taking a bogey at the last then losing in a play-off to Stewart Cink] as a gentleman.
“As soon as he put his name forward, the PGA of America said, ‘great we will go for this’. Has it changed our view of who we should put up against him? It shouldn’t because, irrespective of who the Americans have selected, we should be selecting the best man for the job.
“Surely that shouldn’t change. We can’t suddenly say he’s no good because of what America have done. I think it will put a wee bit extra pressure on our captain, especially in all the stuff that leads up to the Ryder Cup, the year to go celebrations etc.
“Tom Watson’s stature is second to none and we certainly need someone who can liaise with people, speak to them etc. They also can’t be intimidated by Tom. But all that goes down to the best man for the job, whoever that might be.”
Having been a successful Seve Trophy captain, McGinley appeared to have the support of many people within the game for the Gleneagles job but the bookmakers now have Clarke as an odds-on favourite.
“Darren would be classified as that as we stand because of his stature, having won a major championship,” observed Montgomerie. “But, for the first time, there is going to be a committee vote between two candidates and that will start off in Abu Dhabi next month.
“Paul was very good at the Seve Trophy. He was also very good as a backroom member at the Ryder Cup. He was very good with me and I believe he was very good with Olazabal. But, for me, it goes back to this best man for the job business. Just because it’s your turn doesn’t necessarily mean it will be you. There are certain people who are meant to be in charge of a team and some who are not.
“Brian Kidd was a good No 2 but, when he left Sir Alex Ferguson, it was clear he was a No 2. There are people who are meant to be in charge of a team and those who are meant to be No 2.”
At 65, Watson will be the event’s oldest captain. Asked if he’d ever consider a second stint later in his career, Montgomerie said: “I think it depends. America had to change something to try and win the Ryder Cup back.
“If we’d lost it four times in a row and I was 61 and it comes back to Gleneagles, or whatever, [I might] but by then we’ve got a number of great candidates coming through and I’ll be walking the dogs by then, I’m sure.”
The PGA of America changed its policy by opting for Watson, having previously handed the post to a major winner in his late 40s. “I think the Americans felt they had to do something different,” noted Montgomerie. “They were the ones who changed things after Paul Azinger was appointed in 2008. They used to have ten and two captain’s picks, then he changed it to eight and four picks.
“They’d lost three times in a row for the first time so they changed the system and won it.
“Azinger was a great captain and, if you are picking a captain for a second time, then why not go for the man who has won it most recently. But the media will look forward to what Tom Watson will have to say, he will be very popular in Scotland and I think it could well be a coup.”