As Sergio surges, Monty's Ryder hopes slipping away

As Sergio surges, Monty’s Ryder hopes slipping away

Garcia shot a 1-under 69.
Michael Conroy/AP

OK, hands up. Who wants a Ryder Cup wildcard?

The clock is ticking for European match-play giants Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie. But only the Spaniard helped his chances Thursday after he posted a first-round 69 (1-under), while Monty stumbled and grumbled to a 76 (6-over).

Garcia spent his five-hour wrestling match vs. the Monster struggling with his driver, relying on his short irons and once-brittle putter to escape trouble. He’s poised to do Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo the favor of making the team on points, allowing the skipper to use one of his two wildcard picks on another player.

Sergio played classic match-play golf on Thursday. Despite hitting only four of 14 fairways, he chipped his way out of trouble and took only 26 putts. “I hit a few bad tee shots because of a lack of confidence, but I scrambled nicely, and on and around the greens I was pretty good,” he said. “You know that you are going to have to hit wedge into a few par-4 greens with your third shot.”

Garcia’s day can be summed up on his closing holes (seven, eight and nine). On the 449-yard par-4 seventh, he hooked it 40 yards wide of the fairway and 50 yards behind the drives of his playing partners Camilo Villegas (4-over 74) and Anthony Kim (even-par 70). But Garcia fizzed an iron to the front of the green and two-putted for par.

At the 491-yard par-4 eighth, he scuffed his second shot out of a fairway bunker and barely advanced it 30 yards. Then he tossed another Garcia dart pin-high to six feet, saving another par. At the 257-yard par-3 ninth, he resisted the temptation to attack the sucker pin.

“You’d have to be stupid to go for it,” Garcia said of the front-right, bunker-guarded flag location. “There’s no margin for error. I drilled a 4-iron into the middle of the green. So patience this week especially is so important. I’m going to the range this afternoon to try to find some confidence with my driver. But I’m thrilled with 1-under.”

Monty was less thrilled than his former Ryder Cup teammate. When the matches were held at Oakland Hills in 2004, it was the great Scot who holed the winning putt. These days, his birdie quota is drying up faster than Persian Gulf oil. He carded only two birdies on Thursday-at 11 and 12 (his front nine)-to eight bogeys, and he took 32 putts. In fact, Monty mustered only seven birdies for all four rounds of last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. That’s hardly the form Faldo wants to see in a potential wildcard.

While short on birdies, the 45-year-old was Monty-like in other ways. He moaned at the marshals on the first tee (his 10th) for waving their the-ball-went-thataway paddles too close to his personal space. “I’ll find my own ball, believe me,” he snapped at one hapless fellow (who should have responded, “Maybe, but it won’t be in the hole any time soon.”)

Monty’s mood hadn’t mellowed by the time he signed his card. He stopped to talk to reporters for exactly 26 seconds. “Too long, too tough,” he huffed of Oakland Hills. “You can spray it 20 yards wide and you’re okay, but if you spin off by six inches or one foot, you’re not. It’s a shame.”

If his first round is any indication, Monty won’t be threatening Faldo’s record haul of 25 Ryder Cup points at next month’s competition. He could be stuck forever on 23 1/2.