Colin Montgomerie believes European golf is on the cusp of a new golden era heading into this year’s Ryder Cup clash and feels confident that Thomas Bjorn will have a stronger side at his disposal than the one that lost last time out at Hazeltine.
The Americans look set to start as hot favourites in France in September on the back of having followed up that 17-11 win over Darren Clarke’s side in Minnesota in 2016 with an equally impressive victory over the Internationals in the Presidents Cup last year.
That bid for a first win on European soil since 1993 at The Belfry will be spearheaded by a fearless group led by Open champion Jordan Spieth and US PGA title-holder Justin Thomas, with one American golf writer claiming the Paris match will be the start of a “decade plus of blowouts” for Uncle Sam’s men.
Montgomerie, the triumphant captain at Celtic Manor in 2010, had already laughed off that remark in an interview with The Scotsman late last year and the recent achievements of European players around the world have made him more convinced that the US will not get it all their own way at Le Golf National.
Speaking in Dubai ahead of his appearance in this week’s Omega Desert Classic, the eight-time European No 1 pointed to weekend wins by Sergio Garcia (Singapore Open), Jon Rahm (CareerBuilder Challenge) and Tommy Fleetwood (Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship) as being boosts for European golf in the countdown to the Ryder Cup.
He also insisted that Paul Casey making himself available for his first appearance in the event for a decade by rejoining the European Tour this season after a two-year absence is another reason why Bjorn will be leading the home team into battle with the strongest possible side.
“I think we are at the beginning of a new golden era in Europe,” declared Montgomerie, who played in eight Ryder Cups, including five winning teams and was unbeaten in singles matches. “Thomas Bjorn must be thrilled with the state of European golf right now, as we all are. He can only be delighted about what happened at the weekend with Sergio and Jon winning and Tommy proving himself yet again.
“I just saw Tyrrell Hatton there and thank goodness Paul Casey has re-joined the Tour because he has always been a world player. Him, Tommy, Jon and Tyrrell are going to be a huge asset to Thomas’s team in September that Darren didn’t have last time.
“Two years is a long time in sport and the likes of Fleetwood, Hatton and Rahm have appeared really from nowhere on to the world stage. The Americans fancy themselves, as they always do, and will be favourites coming in with the success they’ve had recently. But it will be game on in France.”
Bjorn got off to a winning start as Europe’s captain after his side rallied on the last day to win the recent EurAsia Cup in Malaysia. Led by Fleetwood as he successfully defended the title, 10 players from that team then finished in the top 20 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last weekend, displaying their desire to waste no time picking up Ryder Cup points.
“You can’t help but think that European golf is in very good hands right now,” admitted Bjorn, also speaking at Emirates Golf Club, where Masters champion Garcia defends the title later this week in a field that also includes Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and American Pat Perez.
“There are some great players and I thought the EurAsia Cup was important in so many ways in getting 12 guys together that all have a great potential of being in Paris. But American golf is also in great hands at the moment.”
Told about Montgomerie saying he believed European golf was on the verge of something special, the Dane added: “Yeah, but there’s five, six, seven Americans and a few others from around the world that’s got a word to say about that.
“They are also very special players - but there’s no doubt that these (European) players at a young age feel like they can consistently compete for majors and I thought Tommy’s performance on Sunday, shooting 30 on the back nine in tough conditions, was major-like.”
Bjorn already has Swede Robert Karlsson working as one of his vice-captains but has no plans to add to that appointment until after the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth at the end of May at the earliest, with the likes of Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter likely to be in the frame.
“I’m pushing that back, to be honest,” he admitted. “I have a good idea where I want to go, but I also want people to play and enjoy golf. I don’t want to interfere in people’s lives as a golfer. I know how I was myself as a vice-captain. As soon as you get that head on, your mind goes away from your golf and I don’t need to put them through that now.”
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