EUROPE go into the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor next month as clear favourites. Despite all the off-course revelations surrounding captain Colin Montgomerie and one of his vice-captains Thomas Bjorn – which have nothing to do with golf at all – Europe’s stock is riding high with two of this year’s Major winners in their line-up.
Martin Kaymer’s stunning win over Bubba Watson in a three-hole play-off in the US PGA Championship gave Europe yet another lift.
Forget about Dustin Johnson’s controversial two-shot penalty which dropped him out of a share of the lead after his transgression at a bunker on the 18th, Kaymer’s steely performance in the Whistling Straits play-off added another Major winner to the European team at Celtic Manor on October 1-3 alongside US Open Champion Graeme McDowell.
It means Europe go into the match 2-1 up in terms of Major winners – the US flag bearer is Masters champion Phil Mickelson while Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen, of course, doesn’t figure in the match being South African.
The 25-year-old Kaymer became only the second German to win a Major title, compatriot Bernhard Langer having won the US Masters in 1985 and 1993. Langer went on to be a successful Ryder Cup winner as player and captain . . . could this be an omen for Celtic Manor?
There is something of a necessity for a European win to maintain the edge of the Cup which has become a real contest in recent years and also for the European Tour in general.
However, it would be foolish to write off the Americans, although at the Open at St Andrews it was only the second time in 50 years that no American player had finished in the top six. It’s doubtful there will a danger of over-confidence surrounding the European team, but Kaymer and McDowell’s triumphs are a real boost.
“We are all under no illusions whatsoever how difficult a task this will be to attempt to regain the Ryder Cup against what will be a very strong and very talented United States team. But we are more than ready for the challenge,” said European captain Colin Montgomerie.
This year’s clash will be staged at Celtic Manor Resort in Wales when Europe will bid to wrest back the trophy they surrendered at Valhalla, Kentucky, in 2008.
Monty has been happy to switch focus from his own game to the Cup in the wake of the US PGA Championship.
The full team was due to be announced, as Golf North East went to press, and there will have been plenty of comment on Monty’s three wildcard picks, but whatever the line-up is, the fact is that the British and European golfing fans will expect a home win at Celtic Manor.
When he announced his three vice-captains – Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley – Monty said: “The Ryder Cup is all about passion, commitment and will to win, and those three guys all possess those qualities in abundance.
“They have the respect and admiration of everyone in golf and have all been part of a combined nine successful European Ryder Cup teams in the past.
“Furthermore they know the players who will be part of my team as well as anyone. Respect from the other players is vital and those three guys, in addition to myself, will have the utmost respect in the team room, in the locker room and out on the course.”
That may well be, but it is the players who have to bring home the bacon and the feeling, quite rightly, is that Europe are riding high given results in the Majors and on both the European and US Tours.
“This is a great time for European golf,” says Monty. “We have just had great success with Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer and were very close to having further success in our own Open at St Andrews.”
However, the back room staff are important and Monty decided not to call upon Joe Maria Olazabal as a fourth member of that group because of the Spaniard’s health problems.
“I know I said in the past that I was going to opt for four vice-captains but these things can change and, believe me, when I looked at the calibre of the three guys sitting next to me on that top table the other day, I don’t think I could do any better than that,“ said Monty, who reckons outside of the singles, there will only ever be four matches on the course at any one time.
And with the trio of vice-captains and himself, Monty reckons they will be able to analyse exactly what is going on and get the best out of the players.
Crowds of 40,000 a day are expected for the three days and they will be demanding a European victory as will the millions watching on television.