Ryder Cup Fever Strikes with Months Still to Go
IT SEEMS that everybody is talking about the Ryder Cup. Given that there are four majors and just about an entire season to get out of the way before the first shot is hit in anger at Le Golf National on Friday, September 28, that comes as something of a surprise.
When paying tribute to Tommy Fleetwood's performance in successfully defending the Abu Dhabi Championship, Rory McIlroy went out of his to say what an asset Fleetwood would be to Europe's cause. The four-time major champion had already gone on the record a couple of weeks earlier to say that if the United States thought they were going to stroll to victory in France then they may want to thin again. This from a man who once said he thought the event was little more than a glorified exhibition.
Phil MIckelson has stated that his main goal for the year is make a 12th appearance in the Ryder Cup, and the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson have all said how much they are looking forward to it.
It is not so very long ago that the Americans didn't care much for the Ryder Cup. They simply turned up every two years, won the thing and took it back home with them. And then it all changed. Europe won at The Belfry in 1985 and then won the trophy two years later on American soil.
It signalled a spell of European domination and American misery that all came to head when Paul McGinley's team imposed a humiliating defeat upon a team captained by the legendary Tom Watson. It all ended in recrimination, with Mickelson launching a disappointing public attack on Watson's leadership.
Isn't it funny how things change when an unbroken run of American success comes to an end? They didn't care about sailing's America's Cup until Australia had the temerity to beat them in 1983. They properly hate to lose.
And so they set up a working party to turn things around and, under Davis Love III, the Americans regained the Ryder Cup in some style at Hazeltine in 2016. And suddenly the swagger is back, and they give the impression that all that they have to do is turn up in France to win it again.
Their top players have suddenly become passionate about wanting to make the team, and they talk about it in the same breath as winning majors.
The latest to join the discussion about this year's encounter is one of our own, and is somebody who knows what it takes to win. Colin Montgomerie played in the Ryder Cup eight times, winning on five occasions. He was never beaten in the singles. And the Scot also captained Europe to victory at Celtic Manor in 2010. So he is better qualified than most to talk about the battle to come.
The Scot believes that Europe could field its strong-ever team in September - and that is quite some assessment when you consider the sides that contained the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer and Montgomerie himself.
"Suddenly you've got three guys that have appeared from nowhere on the world stage: Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood - and Paul Casey, thank goodness, has joined the European Tour again.Darren Clarke [the captain in 2016] didn't have that luck really in his 12 for Hazeltine, the way his team worked out," Montgomerie said.
"That's four guys, a third of Thomas Bjorn's team, who have come from nowhere on to a world stage and that's great for European golf. You add that into a number of guys that are just right behind that level and European golf is in a very, very strong place.
"Sergio Garcia's win at The Masters, his win last week in Singapore, Jon Rahm in America, European golf is on a bit of a high right now and we must continue that through the year.
"I always felt that the Ryder Cup team of 2006 was the strongest that we could ever put out and we have to be as strong, if not stronger, to beat America come September," Montgomerie said. "If you add Garcia, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson into that, yes this could be the strongest-ever team and it's got to be."
Montgomerie also said that he hopes Tiger Woods' latest comeback will be successful. He returns to regular PGA Tour action at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and there is huge excitement and anticipation within the world of golf that this time things may turn out rather well for the former world number one.
"It'll be difficult, a lot of pressure on him," Montgomerie said. "Torrey Pines is a proper golf course. Yes he's done well there before but he's got to play well to make the cut. Let's hope he makes the cut and does well and we see Tiger back at the Masters and performing because he is the marketing needle that even the Jordan Spieths of this world, the Justin Thomases, the Dustin Johnsons can't hold a candle to."
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