NEWPORT, Wales (AP) — Croeso, Ryder Cup!
Amid the lush, rolling hills of Wales, workers put the finishing touches on a course that was built with this very event in mind.
A giant stage has gone up alongside the 18th hole for the opening ceremony. An amphitheater-style grandstand wraps around the first tee. Signs proclaimed “Croeso,” the Welsh word for “Welcome” – even if some of the locals aren’t quite sure how to pronounce it.
“We’re the only country in the world,” a bus diver quipped as he shuttled reporters to the course, “that doesn’t known how to speak its own language.”
No worries. Celtic Manor looks ready for its moment in the sun, even if there doesn’t figure to be much sunshine for this biennial event between the defending champion Americans and the home team from Europe. The skies Monday were gray and dreary, with the forecast calling for rain much of the week.
While the weather is unmistakably British, the new Twenty Ten course is hardly a traditional seaside links. Instead, this is a setting that one might expect from a typical week on the PGA Tour – right down to a towering fountain in front of the 18th green.
That’s just fine with European captain Colin Montgomerie.
“There’s a so called home-course advantage that can be used for a home team,” he said. “On this occasion, I haven’t played around with the golf course at all. This golf course is set up in a very, very fair manner to allow the best team to win. I don’t think it is right to set the course up in any other way than to what it’s been designed for. It’s a great, great golf course and it’s in super condition.”
The Americans haven’t won in Europe since 1993, so they’ll take any little edge they can get. Even so, they’re the clear underdogs against a team that had such a deep pool of talent to choose from that Montgomerie passed over top 10-ranked player Paul Casey and Justin Rose, who won three of his four matches in the last Ryder Cup and had two PGA Tour victories this year.
Monty wasn’t buying the favorite’s tag, however.
“On paper, yes. Unfortunately, the Ryder Cup is not played on paper,” he said. “This will be very, very close and very competitive, as they always are.”
U.S. captain Corey Pavin had a firm grip on the gold chalice as he left the media center Monday, though he didn’t mind pausing long enough to let others get a look. The early winners are engraved on the original bowl, while the more recent champions – including the U.S. two years ago at Valhalla – are memorialized around the expanded base, a la the Stanley Cup in hockey.
Pavin likes the Americans’ chances of taking the cup back home with them Sunday night, even if most everyone on this side of the Atlantic believes a European victory is a lock with a team that includes two of this year’s major champions, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell.
The U.S. roster isn’t exactly barren. Jim Furyk is coming off a $10 million win at the Tour Championship, Dustin Johnson might have won the PGA Championship if not for his blunder in the bunker and, oh yeah, let’s not forget those two guys at the top of the world rankings.
Granted, No. 1 Tiger Woods has made far more news off the course, failing to win in a year when a sex scandal led to the breakup of his marriage, and second-ranked Phil Mickelson hasn’t done much since winning the Masters in April. But they’re still an imposing duo, even if there’s no chance of them playing together as they did during their ill-fated pairing at the 2004 Ryder Cup.
“I like the way Team USA is playing right now,” Pavin said. “There’s a lot of guys that have been playing well, and that’s always a good thing. Any captain is going to want his players to be up on their game, but then again, anything can happen during a week of golf. Things can change quickly.”
Both captains issued a no-tweeting ban for the week, hoping that will help keep their focus on the matches rather than trying to entertain their social network fans. Stewart Cink and Ian Poulter both have over a million followers on Twitter.
“We’re finally off to Wales!! Won’t be tweeting until we get back. I guess I’ll have to pass the down time actually reading or something,” Cink wrote before the U.S. team’s charter flight from Atlanta to Cardiff.
Poulter, however, clarified the policy with a Tweet late Monday night: “For the record Colin hasn’t banned twitter, he has asked to be respectful to the teams privacy. I played 7 holes today course is awesome.”
Pavin figures his team can survive a week without documenting their every move.
“We talked about it as a team and we thought it best not to do it,” he said. “We need to focus on playing and working on preparations and getting ready to play the Ryder Cup. … Team USA, whatever they would like to do – tweeting or facebooking or whatever it may be – they have the opportunity to do that next week and for the rest of their lives.”
Montgomerie figures to be one of the star attractions at Celtic Manor, even though he’ll never hit a shot. He never lost a singles match during his Ryder Cup career, and would dearly love to lead the team that brought the prize back to Europe.
“First time I’ve arrived with no golf clubs, I assure you,” he said. “It’s strange in many ways. The biggest event in my golfing career and I’ve come here with no clubs. Quite weird, really.”
Not that Monty’s giving up on returning as a player in two years at Medina.
“I stood on the first tee on Friday when I arrived,” he said. “I had my own thoughts about ever playing again in the Ryder Cup, and after this great honor and responsibility that this is, I intend to do my utmost to try to make the team in 2012.”