Captain displays faith in veteran Padraig
EDOARDO MOLINARI made it impossible for captain Colin Montgomerie to leave him out of the Ryder Cup side with his phenomenal performance at Gleneagles yesterday, yet the young Italian's sensational victory at The Johnnie Walker Championship also helped copperfasten Padraig Harrington's wild card for Celtic Manor.
The adage 'old friends are best' certainly held true for Ireland's three-time Major champion, as Montgomerie is well aware of Harrington's considerable strengths after forging a strong personal relationship with the Dubliner in the white heat of the Ryder Cup arena.
Not least at Oakland Hills in 2004, where they slammed Hal Sutton's 'Dream Team' of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
The respect Harrington commands in the locker-room and his stature as a multiple winner at the Majors clearly transcended his results over two years, in which the Irishman has failed to win on Tour since his victory at the 2008 US PGA Championship.
Monty would insist he hasn't listed his wild cards in order of preference but, given the crucial importance of experience to a Ryder Cup team which, with Edoardo Molinari, includes six Ryder Cup rookies, it was entirely appropriate that Harrington's name would be the first uttered from the skipper's lips.
The other two picks went to England's Luke Donald and, of course, 29-year-old Molinari, who joins his younger brother Francesco (27) at Celtic Manor on the back of a birdie-birdie-birdie swoop for victory at Gleneagles, which Monty described as one of the best he's seen in 24-plus years on the European Tour. "I don't think I've seen a finish of that quality under such pressure by anyone and all credit goes to Edoardo for coming here needing to win and doing so," said Montgomerie.
The European skipper was unable to find room for English duo Justin Rose, a two time-winner on the US PGA Tour this summer, and Paul Casey, who as the world No 9 is the highest-ranked player from either America or Europe not to make the Ryder Cup.
The low point of what Montgomerie conceded was the "most stress-laden day of his career in golf" was phoning Rose on the practice ground at The Barclays to give him the bad news, moments before he went to the first tee for his final round in the lucrative FedEx Cup play-off.
He was unable to contact Casey because he had already embarked on his final round at The Barclays, ironically with Harrington. Rather than find fault with a qualification system that was unable to find a place in the European team for a player ranked as highly as Casey, Montgomerie preferred instead to see the omission of the two Englishmen, "both world-class players", as proof of "the embarrassment of riches we have on the European Tour".
Ironically, in the 45 minutes or so it took for the completion of the Ryder Cup press conference at Gleneagles, Harrington dropped three shots in four holes on his front nine as he faded out of contention at The Barclays.
Maybe it's just as well Montgomerie wasn't watching, though it probably wouldn't have made any difference, judging by the glowing endorsement the Scot gave to Harrington.
"He has won three Major championships in the last three years," said the captain. "Of course, it's about the experience he brings to the team and the stature of Padraig Harrington as the calibre of player nobody wants to face in match-play golf."
Not the least bit concerned by Harrington's recent record at the Ryder Cup, which includes just a half-point won at The K Club in 2006 and again at Valhalla two years ago, Montgomerie went on: "Padraig's attitude and the way he plays the game is an inspiration to his fellow players.
"It's the way he devotes himself 110pc to everything he does and the wonderful work ethic he has.
"So no, I am not at all concerned about his form. It's the way he performs when he's up against the wall which most interests me and that is the Padraig Harrington we will see at Celtic Manor."
Montgomerie used the word 'we' throughout yesterday's media conference, referring not only to the assistants -- Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley -- alongside him at the top table but also to Sergio Garcia in Spain, who, interestingly, has agreed to join the European back-room team at Celtic Manor as a vice-captain.
Currently taking a two-month break from playing the sport, Garcia was offered the position "because of the passion he brings to the game, like Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, those two great Spaniards before him", Monty explained.
A role has also been found for Rhys Davies of Wales on the back-room staff, which will not only please the home crowd but also give this talented prospect an opportunity to taste the atmosphere at the Ryder Cup in the same way as Martin Kaymer did as Nick Faldo's special guest at Valhalla.
Though loyalty to the European Tour and the controversial decision by Harrington, Rose, Casey and Donald to play the FedEx Cup pipe-opener instead of the final qualifier at Gleneagles has been a hot topic of conversation on Tour over the past week, Montgomerie insisted it played no part in the wild-card decisions.
"Fourteen and a half points -- that's the only factor which came into consideration during our discussions," he insisted, referring of course to the total required to wrest the Ryder Cup back from the States.