McIlroy said recently that he currently intends to play only two full-field European Tour events next year – one expected to be the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club in East Lothian – due to changes in the fixture list caused mainly by the US PGA Championship moving from its traditional summer slot to May.
That would leave the 29-year-old two events short of the minimum obligation to fulfil membership and, under a new European Tour rule introduced in January 2017, any player failing to hold that from 2018 onwards would be ruled out of becoming a Ryder Cup captain or vice-captain.
“He’s come in for criticism from some parts,” said Montgomerie, speaking during a visit to Edinburgh in his role as an Aberdeen Standard Investments (ASI) ambassador. His fellow Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley, for instance, described McIlroy’s proposed plan of attack for the 2019 campaign as “quite extraordinary” and also saying he was “very disappointed” for the European Tour.
“But we are all self-employed, and he feels the best way for him to progress and win majors is in that environment in America, where there are three majors,” said Montgomerie. “We’ll see if that decision bears fruit. The European Tour will be disappointed, we all are, because he and Justin [Rose] are the biggest draws. But we only come together every 104 weeks [to play in the Ryder Cup]. You can’t be Ryder Cup captain officially now unless you’re a European Tour member. But he’s probably hoping that, in 20 years’ time, that rule might have changed. But I don’t think he’s interested in captaincy right now. That is off the charts time-wise and that’s understandable. He’s interested in winning as many majors as he can.”
Montgomerie, who joined Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew in hosting a clinic for ASI staff at the Braid Hills Golf Centre in Edinburgh, added: “It’s good for the European Tour when our guys are winning majors. Nick Faldo’s majors were great for the tour, so were Seve Ballesteros’s – 11 between them. It was a great time.
“We also had Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle winning majors back in the late 80s and early 90s when we dominated.
“It’s more sparse these days but, if Rory goes and wins a couple and Justin, too, Europe’s on a bit of a high again and the other players benefit from their success. Mr Average European Tour player is hoping Rory does very well.”
It would certainly be a boost for the circuit’s poster boy if he could win the Masters in April, when he makes his fifth attempt to become just the sixth player to complete a career grand slam. “He’s won four of these things [majors] already, but every time he goes to Augusta, there will be that pressure,” added Montgomerie. “Greg Norman had it trying to win at Augusta. He couldn’t do it from six shots ahead [in 1996]. Rory was four ahead [in 2011] and couldn’t do it.
“The more he goes there, the more he doesn’t do it, the whole idea of playing there in these non-European events to get the game honed just for Augusta… he puts the pressure right on himself. Sometimes you just turn up on a Wednesday morning and go for it, you know? There’s preparation, preparation and preparation. God, you’re under pressure. Don’t get me wrong, it might work. But it might not. The Augusta thing is huge for him. After he didn’t win this year, it just gets difficult to get up again – even for the US Open. And he’s won that.”
Rose has also won the latter, and after watching the Englishman rack up 25 top-10 finishes in his last 32 events, Montgomerie reckons it’s only a matter of time before he adds to his major haul. “In terms of top 10s, that’s better than Tiger [Woods] was at his peak,” observed the eight-time European No 1. “Tiger won more. But that is as consistent as anyone has been for years. I mean, that is really good. He’s a real contender.”
Rose is expected to switch to Japanese clubmakers Honma in 2019 from Taylormade, due reportedly to his contract with them not being renewed. Montgomerie successfully made a similar switch after winning the first of his two European Order of Merit titles and he is confident Rose can do likewise.
“It puts a wee bit of pressure on Justin but, if he keeps swinging like he does, he can use a broomstick,” said the Scot. “I played the first two rounds of the Dubai Desert Classic in ’95 under huge pressure. But, as soon as I shot 63 in the second round, that was it. End of discussion about me moving for money!”