Friday 20 April 2018

Monty nightmare

FedEx victory for snubbed Paul Casey would leave Ryder Cup captain open to the wrath of Europe

Paul Casey. Photo: Getty Images
Paul Casey. Photo: Getty Images

K McGinty

IT'S the nightmare scenario for Colin Montgomerie. Paul Casey wins the Tour Championship in a fortnight's time. And with it the FedEx Cup, plus that $10m bonus cheque. The Sunday before the Ryder Cup! Talk about setting an unhappy agenda for the European skipper's week at Celtic Manor.

And it wouldn't make the Ryder Cup build-up any easier for Padraig Harrington, arguably the most controversial of the three wild cards Monty chose ahead of Casey.

Especially as Harrington yesterday fell out of the world top 20 for the first time in four years. Second place in the BMW Championship lifted Casey to world No 7, while Harrington's failure to make the 70-man field at Cog Hill rendered him unable to prevent his slide to No 22.

This is the Dubliner's lowest ranking since June 2006. Harrington, who entered 2010 as world No 5, is without a win on Tour since August 2008, when he picked up his third Major title in 13 months, the US PGA Championship, at Oakland Hills.

It's tempting to suggest that American golf's most popular fall guy, Dustin Johnson, spared the European Ryder Cup captain's blushes with Sunday's victory at the BMW Championship.

Yet Casey wobbled like a toddler on a tricycle as he came down the back nine at Cog Hill. In surrendering a three-stroke tournament lead with slipshod bogeys at 13, 14 and 15 on Sunday, the Englishman did little to advance his case for Ryder Cup selection.

However, that will be forgotten next Sunday week in Atlanta if Casey claims the biggest and most prestigious prize in professional golf. He goes into the PGA Tour's showpiece in fifth place in the rankings and, as a result of the redistribution of points for this year's finale, any one of the top five is guaranteed the FedEx Cup should he win the Tour Championship.

As leader, Matt Kuchar will have 2,500 points in the bank as he tees it up in Atlanta. In second place, Johnson starts with 2,250 points, Charley Hoffman will have 2,000 points, Steve Stricker 1,800, Casey 1,600, while the man in sixth, Aussie Jason Day, goes in with 1,400 points.

With 2,500 points on offer to the winner of The Tour Championship, 1,500 to second, 1,000 to third, 750 to fourth and a sliding scale thereafter, the mathematical advantage enjoyed by the top five going to Atlanta becomes clear.

And despite his ropey performance down the stretch last Sunday, Casey is capable of winning at East Lake, even if this is his first appearance at the Tour Championship.

Should that happen, the European skipper will be filleted by the British press -- and, unlike Nick Faldo in the wake of his controversial decision to pick Ian Poulter for Valhalla in 2008, Monty will face the full wrath of the media at home.

As for Europe's wild cards -- Harrington, Edoardo Molinari and Luke Donald -- the pressure on them to perform at the Ryder Cup is already so great, it's difficult to imagine how it could be increased as they line up their first tee shot at Celtic Manor.


However, life plainly would be a lot more comfortable for Molinari, Donald and especially Harrington if their legitimacy as captain's picks was not the subject of rabid questioning in the days leading up to the match.

While all three of Corey Pavin's picks -- Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink and Rickie Fowler -- failed to make the 30-man field for the Tour Championship, Europe's Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter were prominent among those who also missed out.

Yet the US skipper still has three of his men -- Kuchar, Johnson and Stricker -- in the FedEx top five. Montgomerie wouldn't be human if he didn't wish even for one of those three or, sweeter still, Hoffman, the mane-haired American overlooked by Pavin, to eclipse Casey at East Lake.

All credit is due to Johnson for the way in which he eliminated, on Sunday, memories of his final-day collapse in the US Open at Pebble Beach and the hotly controversial penalty which ruled him out of the play-off in the last month's US PGA at Whistling Straits.

In taking on the dog-leg with his driver at 17 and fearlessly executing the tee shot which set up the birdie that put him one ahead of Casey, Johnson showed his spirit had not been diminished by the heart-rending events of this summer.

Then he underscored the point by bravely opting for driver once again on his way to the par which clinched his second PGA Tour victory of the season and fourth in all.

Still, the last smirk went to Casey. Asked if he'd been motivated at Cog Hill by his Ryder Cup snub, he replied with one word: "Yes."

Did he care to expand on that? "No, I can't go there unfortunately," the Englishman said.

He didn't have to.

Captain Monty must feel like the lead character in a disaster movie. Johnson bought him a little time on Sunday but Hurricane Paul, potentially the perfect Ryder Cup storm, is still bearing down on him.

Irish Independent

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