Thousand Oaks, Calif. — It sounds like a wonderful dream for the U.S. captain, Paul Azinger: Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie fails to qualify for the 2008 Ryder Cup team and is not made a captain’s pick, leaving Europe without its strongest player and creating a mutinous atmosphere on the team.
This fantastic scenario is not far-fetched considering recent comments by the European captain, Nick Queeg, oops, I mean Faldo, who said Monty big-timed his teammates at the Seve Cup, skipping Ryder Cup meetings and having to be prompted to the 18th green to support the team.
For his part, Monty, who is in California this week for the Target World Challenge, said Wednesday that he intends to qualify for the Ryder Cup team in 2008 and make the question of a captain’s pick moot. But he’s prepared to be left off the Ryder Cup squad, which will go for a Euro four-peat at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., this September.
“I wouldn’t lose any sleep over [not making the team]; I’d just make sure I make it in 2008,” Monty said. “I’m nowhere near it now because I made a particularly poor start to the qualifying season, but I know if I play well in 2008 I’ll qualify.”
Asked if he’s earned a captain’s pick with his legendary Ryder Cup play (unbeaten in singles, 20-9-7 overall), Montgomerie wouldn’t give a direct response.
“That’s difficult,” he said. “I’ve qualified seven times, and [Bernhard] Langer picked me in 2004. Even if I get to 12 or 13 on the list, I might get picked again. Nick knows the situation and he’s aware of it, and so am I.”
If you were inclined, you could read much into Montgomerie’s oblique comments about Faldo on Wednesday. “Nick is his own man,” he said. “He’s a very, very individual man.” So is North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Il.
But the row with Faldo is behind them, Montgomerie said, and it won’t poison the Europeans’ camaraderie, which many believe has been essential to the team’s three straight Ryder Cup victories and more than a decade of dominance.
“I’ve spoken to Nick and it’s fine,” Monty said. “It doesn’t concern me, but we must keep that ambiance, that team spirit which has been so vital to us over the last success, of our Ryder Cup team intact.”
In fact, Montgomery believes the 2008 contest will be the most intensely fought in years because of two changes the Americans have made. First, the PGA Tour is taking a week off before the Ryder Cup this year. Second, Azinger will have four captain’s picks instead of the usual two.
“There were three people who won their singles in 2006, Tiger and the two captain’s picks,” Montgomerie said, referring to Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank. “The two picks are the strength of the team in my opinion, and to have more picks would be even stronger.
“No one likes to lose four times in a row — three is bad enough. Especially at home, and with Paul Azinger being as tough a competitor as he is, I think this will be as tough a Ryder Cup as we have ever, ever played in a competitive way.”
Montgomerie thinks another American weapon in 2008 could be Boo Weekley, the Tour’s leading good ol’ boy, whom he faced in the World Cup last month. (Montgomerie and a fellow Scot, Marc Warren, beat Americans Weekley and Heath Slocum in a playoff.) The laid-back Weekley clearly made an impression.
“He called me ‘sir,’ I like that, a lot of respect there,” Montgomerie joked. “Apparently he was up in a tree when he got the call for the World Cup. He was up in a tree trying to kill something.”
Weekley, who famously asked the 1999 British Open champion, Paul Lawrie, if he had qualified for this year’s Open at Carnoustie, even recognized Monty.
“Nothing against Paul Lawrie, but he knew who I was, which was great,” Montgomerie said, drawing laughs from the assembled reporters. “He’s something else, Boo. He’s a good player, a good ball-striker, and that’s what I like to witness.”
Montgomerie was in good spirits Wednesday, and not just because of Boo. The World Cup win has put a spring in his step, as has his upcoming wedding in April (his second). Montgomerie also had kind words for Tiger Woods, who hosts the Target World Challenge to benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation. Tiger, he said, could finally win the Grand Slam in 2008.
“I always feel his best time was 2000, when he held all four majors at one time, and I think he’s getting back to that level again,” he said. “And who says that 2008 won’t be the time he does all four. It’s a remarkable achievement, and somehow you hope he is the one to do it.”
Asked about the gap between Woods and the world’s best players, Montgomerie interrupted. “You mean the gap between Tiger and me? Oh, it’s quite wide really,” he said to more laughs.
Montgomerie was clearly on a roll and could have answered questions for hours, but his tee time for the pro-am was fast approaching. As he left, he even declined questions with aplomb.
“That’s a great question,” he said following a reporter’s query. “In fact that’s such a great question I need to think about it. Find me after my round.”