Monty: Don’t give Olly a wildcard nightmare

COLIN Montgomerie, last year’s winning Ryder Cup captain in Wales, has warned Europe’s leading golfers that they’ll be taking “a risk” if they base themselves in the United States when it reaches crunch time in the race to be on Jose Maria Olazabal’s team to face the Americans at Medinah next year.

Twelve months ago, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose were all vying for the three wild-card spots in Montgomerie’s team at Celtic Manor yet, instead of playing in the final qualifying event – the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles – they were in America chasing the big money on offer in the FedEx Cup.

It left the Scot with a massive headache and he eventually overlooked Casey, the world No 9 at the time, and handed his wildcards to Donald, Harrington and Edoardo Molinari, the winner in Perthshire. Now Montgomerie is hoping players will have learned lessons so as to avoid putting Spaniard Olazabal in a similar position in a years’ time.

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The qualifying race tees off in Switzerland next week – five players will come off a world points list and another five from a European one – and will conclude at the Johnnie Walker event next August, when the wildcards up for grabs in the European team will be down to just two at the request of new captain Olazabal.

“I think it surprised us that a world top-10 player didn’t make it last time and I hope that scenario doesn’t come up again as it was a very difficult decision,” said Montgomerie, who has been paired with Olazabal in the opening two rounds of the £1.4 million event over the PGA Centenary Course.

“I hope that it is more cut and dry for Jose than it was for me. But, if you base yourself in America, you are taking a risk to make the team. I don’t want to be the guy that changes the rule book on having to play in this event [the Johnnie Walker Championship]. I asked players to play and one of the guys [Molinari] got picked because he not only played but won. I think that some players didn’t believe the risks involved in not making that top nine. It is quite straightforward. You have a qualification. If you don’t make the top 10, you might not make the team as you can’t rely on a pick. For any player to rely on a pick is wrong. If you are not in the top 10, if you have not qualified, you are at risk – simple as that.”

One Ryder Cup hopeful who won’t enter the race until January is American-based Martin Laird, Scotland’s top-ranked player. That’s when he’ll be taking up membership of the European Tour, having decided he would be unable to fulfil the minimum number of events required this year.

It means he’ll have to play catch-up but Montgomerie, an eight-time Ryder Cup player, is confident his fellow Scot will still have plenty of time to force his way into the reckoning, just as Molinari did in 2010 after he graduated from the Challenge Tour the previous season.

“He proved to me that he was capable of playing in the Ryder Cup and it’s up to Martin Laird now to do what Edoardo Molinari did, win three times, to get as close as he possibly can to qualification and be one of those two picks – if he doesn’t already qualify himself. I wish him well. It would be nice to get some Scottish representation again. It’s been 2006 since a Scot (Montgomerie at The K Club) was in the team and that’s too long.”

While the Ryder Cup was a topic that peppered Montgomerie’s pre-event press conference at Gleneagles, where he is the tournament chairman, he won’t be the one raising it with Olazabal out on the lush fairways of the PGA Centenary Course.

“I’ll be offering no advice to Jose unless he asks,” noted the Scot, who is making his first appearance on the European Tour since the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart in early July. “If there’s something that’s bothering him or there’s a problem, he knows my number. But he’s got as much experience as I have in Ryder Cups and I don’t forsee those difficulties arising.

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“He’s his own man, a very passionate man and I don’t envisage any phone call, to be honest. I didn’t need the support of Nick [Faldo], Bernhard [Langer] or Woosie [Ian Woosnam} and he might not need mine.”

This week’s event is the latest test for the 2014 Ryder Cup venue – another re-modelling of the troublesome seventh green has been given a massive thumbs up from players so far – and Montgomerie is not ruling himself out for a second stint as captain then.

“If the Tour Committee ask me to do it again, of course I would take that role. I’m not going to put my name forward so I would need to be asked,” said the Dunning resident, one of 23 Scots in a 156-strong field in Perthshire.

“But Paul McGinley has just been reappointed as the GB&I captain for the Vivendi Trophy and I think that strengthens his case to be captain here. He was a great captain in that event last year and that might strengthen his case to be on Jose Maria’s backroom team in a year’s time.”