Colin Montgomerie believes Phil Mickelson has put himself under pressure heading into next week’s Ryder Cup after criticising Tom Watson for his captaincy in Team USA’s heavy defeat at Gleneagles two years ago.
Mickelson wasted no time in pointing a finger of blame at Watson for a disappointing performance by the visitors in Perthshire, where they were particularly poor in the foursomes as they lost 7-1 over two sessions.
Sitting a few feet away from the US captain at a press conference straight after the 16½-11½ defeat, Mickelson hit out at Watson for straying from Paul Azinger’s successful pod system at Valhalla in 2008 and also claimed the American players had not been involved in any of Watson’s decisions.
“If you spoke to Phil, I think, he would regret what he said publicly,” reflected Montgomerie, the winning captain in 2010, of Mickelson’s controversial outburst, which came after he’d been left out of the two Saturday sessions. “I think if there is an issue with the captain or whatever the case may be, that should be dealt with or spoken about behind closed doors.
“But we have to respect the captain, that is No 1. We all think ‘wrong place, wrong time for that’ and Phil has put pressure on himself again coming into the Ryder Cup with what was said last time.
“He has made this team on merit, so he has put himself under pressure to perform and our players will know that. When the draw comes out on Friday, it will be drilled into our guys that: Right, this guy is under huge pressure here to perform from what he said two years ago. If he can handle it, fine. If he can’t, well, he will regret what he said even more.”
While Mickelson, who is making his 11th appearance in the biennial event, can at least influence the outcome out on the course at Hazeltine, Tiger Woods will be helpless in that respect as he is forced to take on a new Ryder Cup role on this occasion as one of Davis Love III’s vice-captains.
“The European rookies,” insisted Montgomerie, pictured inset, in reply to being asked who was likely to be intimidated most by the ‘Tiger Factor’. “America will have one rookie in Brooks Koepka and Tiger will be there to put pressure on [the European newcomers]. It is a wise move by Davis and all credit to Tiger for stepping up to the plate and saying: ‘yes, I am not playing but I will be there. I want to support America’.
“It will be difficult for our rookies when he is standing there. You know Tiger is there, you know he is well up for it, the crowd will be there chanting Tiger’s name. That is an added incentive for America.
“If I had had someone of that stature for my first game – if Jack Nicklaus had been standing there on the first tee or Arnold Palmer – my God, you would feel it. And Tiger will be used as much as possible to be that way. It was a bit of a coup to get Tiger involved.”
Woods, who last played in the matches in Wales six years ago, has certainly been heavily involved in the task force set up by the Americans in a bid to get back to winning ways in the biennial event, having lost the last three matches and eight out of the last ten.
“I think it will,” added Montgomerie when asked if this Ryder Cup was motivating the former world No 1 more than the event perhaps did in the past. “I think he came from the FedEx Series before or whatever it was and the Ryder Cup wasn’t as important as it probably is now to Tiger. I think it is good for him to be seen to be in a supporting role for the first time ever and I hope it gives him the incentive to get back in the team for the 2020 match in France.
“But, at the same time, I think it is good he has decided to put his patriotic hat on and support his fellow players. I think it is one up for America to have him on those tees and to be part of this American campaign. It is going to be loud and aggressive sometimes. It is going to be difficult for Europe and we need all 12 guys playing their best.”
As was the case with Montgomerie’s team at Celtic Manor, Europe go into this match with six rookies in the side, automatic qualifiers Danny Willett, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood and Andy Sullivan having been joined by Thomas Pieters when the young Belgian pipped Russell Knox for one of Darren Clarke’s three wild cards.
“In 2002, we had four rookies [Niclas Fasth, Pierre Fulke, Paul McGinley and Philip Price] playing in the singles and not one lost that day,” observed Montgomerie of a win masterminded by Sam Torrance at The Belfry. “That is what we have got to try to achieve again to win this away from home. That was at home in 2002. We have to be as good as that, on Sunday especially.
“You never know what rookies are going to do. If we can get 3½ points out of those rookies on Sunday, then we win the Ryder Cup. Let’s hope for Darren’s sake he has made the right choice and Thomas Pieters brings home one of those points.”
After such a bad run of results, the Americans are desperate to return to winning ways, with Jordan Spieth admitting he’d prefer to come out on top at Hazeltine next weekend than walk away with a small fortune when the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup comes to a conclusion at the end of the Tour Championship in Atlanta tomorrow night.
“This is a very important match for America after losing six out of seven,” said Montgomerie. “To lose seven out of eight is something that is very one-sided and we are bound to be favourites again on home soil for the next one in France, so there is a lot of pressure on America to try and win this.
“Would it be good for the Ryder Cup if America win? As a lover of the event, possibly. As a lover of European golf, I can’t possibly say that because I would like us to win it all the time. But it has got to be a contest and they know that as well.
“They are embarrassed at the way they have performed over the last 12 years really to have lost six times so they want it back badly. They had to do something when they lost the last one. It was a poor performance. They are trying everything. They have got to try and do something to try and win this thing. The first sign of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”
l Sky Sports is the only place to watch The Ryder Cup live, as part of an autumn of sport including Premier League, F1, England cricket and rugby’s Autumn internationals.