Ryder Cup captaincy: D-Day for Montgomerie and Olazabal
TWENTY-five years after their first head-to-head, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal will be rivals again today, this time in a committee room rather than on a golf course and for a job as opposed to a championship.
But unlike their British Amateur final at Formby in 1984, which Olazabal comfortably won 5&4, the Scot is the one widely expected to be named Ryder Cup captain for next year's match in Wales. Nobody was even guessing such a scenario just a couple of weeks ago.
Both men had expressed their desire to play next year and, if they had stuck to their guns on that, it was almost a given that Olazabal would be in charge in Chicago in 2012, while Montgomerie would lead Europe on home soil at Gleneagles in 2014 and 2010 might have gone to either Sandy Lyle or Ian Woosnam. But they have not stuck to their guns.
When the players' committee got down to the business of deciding who takes over from Nick Faldo, they were the two who emerged as the favourites.
Montgomerie's age is what has brought him to this point. He would be 51 in five years' time and the mood appears to be to go for a younger man at the helm. Why? Because Faldo was 51 and with him having spent so much time commentating in America in the build-up to the match, there were accusations that he was not sufficiently in touch with his team.
Montgomerie thought about it and, by all accounts, agreed to stand, even though he must still believe a ninth cap – and the chance to break Faldo's points record – remains within his capabilities.
At 42, Olazabal is the younger by three years, but his battle with rheumatism has limited him to just three tournaments in the last eight months. After much soul-searching he last week finally put his name forward to committee chairman Thomas Bjorn, pretty much accepting that, after falling outside the world's top 400, his chance of playing against the Americans again is a real long shot.
If that is the case, why not pick Olazabal for next year and give Montgomerie the opportunity to play once more and then take over for 2012?
A simple answer. The heckling Monty received from American fans, most notably at the 1999 Ryder Cup in Boston and the US Open in Washington in 1997 and San Francisco in 1998, always made it a near-certainty he would do the job on this side of the Atlantic.
Gleneagles was his dream, but Celtic Manor, where one of the courses now bears his name, looks like where it will be for the eight-time European No1.
So Woosnam, who led Europe to victory in Ireland in 2006, and Lyle, a vice-captain then, both offered their services, but look set to miss out. As Wales' most famous golfer, Woosnam can still expect to be involved, though, and successful 2002 captain Sam Torrance has already let it be known he is ready to be an assistant as well.
But what if Montgomerie does put himself in contention for the team? In 1999, Mark James did just that and only after he had narrowly failed did he reveal that he would have played and assistant Ken Brown would have been captain in Boston.
Montgomerie might be thinking of putting such a contingency plan in place, but he has not had a top-ten finish since he was second in the French Open last June and at 135th in the world there are now 42 Europeans ahead of him.
Seventeen of whom are in the top 50. Europe has never had strength in depth like it and for Montgomerie, like Olazabal, it is only going to get harder.
Remember, six-time major winner Faldo played his last cup match at 40, Woosnam at 39, Seve Ballesteros at 38 and Lyle, amazingly, at 29.
Monty has right credentials, say the voices of golf
AS far as endorsements go, Colin Montgomerie could not ask for much better than the support of two former Ryder Cup captains and four of Europe's key team members, writes Phil Johnson.
Sam Torrance, Bernard Gallacher, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia have all backed the Scot to be handed the captaincy of Europe's Ryder Cup team for the 2010 match at Celtic Manor. Jose Maria Olazabal is the only other genuine contender for the post, but supporters of the Spaniard have been conspicuous by their reluctance to speak out. So ahead of today's decision, who is backing who – and why?
• COLIN MONTGOMERIE
"From a business side, Monty would be quite important. He will pull in sponsors and will keep the competition on the front pages for the next two years. I think it is the right decision from a golfing point of view, but it is also the right decision for the Ryder Cup."
– Bernard Gallacher
"I was surprised when Monty made the decision that he would be interested in captaining the side, but I think 100 per cent he is the right man. He is the right age and wants the job. He is a Scot and Wales are fellow Celts and it would make sense for him to do it there."
– Sam Torrance
" I've played for Monty in his captaincy role at the Seve Trophy. He had good attention to detail. He spoke very well at meetings. He got guys nicely motivated. There was lots of consultation and he talked to the players (on pairings and the singles order]. We felt very much a team."
– Paul Casey
"Monty'll be a very good captain, but if he was 51 he'd still be a good captain. From the players' perspective it would be tremendous if he took the captaincy. History shows the captain is very important. Going into Wales he is definitely the right man for the job. Monty's rhetoric is very important. He does excel at that. He'd be an excellent captain."
– Padraig Harrington
"Colin is known for the way he has played in Ryder Cup. He would stand on the first tee – and seeing he is there with his fantastic cup record ... it would feel like being one up to start with. To me, it makes sense to have Colin the first time and then Jose Maria in America."
– Lee Westwood
"It would be nice of Monty if he was to accept the captaincy. If he were to raise his hand it would be a big step. Monty can be a good captain, but there are other candidates for the captaincy as well. I won't be going against Monty for that post but it is not just one hand. I feel there are other guys as well who have the chance for the captaincy."
– Sergio Garcia
• JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL
"I think it would be very nice if Jose got the job. Olazabal showed what he can give to the team last year, but anyone would be very good."
– Miguel Angel Jimenez
• IAN WOOSNAM
"I really don't think it should be either (Montgomerie or Olazabal]. Both can make the squad as players. I was surprised when it emerged that it probably wouldn't be Woosie as he would be the perfect fit in Wales."
– Butch Harmon
• Respect. When it comes to the Ryder Cup, few can match Monty's record. Europe's players have always looked up to him as a leader. The Americans fear him.
&149 Profile. The media, European and American, would be captivated by his every move and every word. The Scot says exactly what he thinks when speaking publicly; and his passion and strength of character would be sure to attract a bumper audience. He would establish a rapport with the fans in Wales.
• Temper. Given his combustible nature, the potential for him storming off in the huff and refusing to speak to the media if Europe lose will always be lingering in the background. In the Ryder Cup, there's nothing worse than a bad loser.
• 2014 factor. If Monty is captain in 2010 he would almost certainly be ruled out of doing the job when the tournament is played at Gleneagles.
• Experience. The Spaniard was Nick Faldo's vice-captain last year when Europe lost at Valhalla. He's had a taste of it and can learn from where Faldo went wrong.
• Inspiration. Olazabal's impassioned speech on the Saturday at Valhalla moved some Europeans to tears.
• Out of touch. Olazabal's recent battles with rheumatism have limited the 42-year-old to only three tournaments in the past eight months.
• Record. Under Olazabal's captaincy, Europe lost heavily to Asia in the Royal Trophy last month.
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