Ryder Cup: Padraig Harrington could be ace in the hole for Colin Montgomerie
The wild card Colin Montgomerie dealt Padraig Harrington is more a challenge than a favour to an old friend. It urges the ‘real' Padraig Harrington, three-time Major champion and renowned as one of the deadliest finishers in golf, to turn up at Celtic Manor.
Not the pale imposter who picked up barely half a point in each of the past two Ryder Cups.
It's a gamble ... but should it pay off, Montgomerie, his European team and, indeed, the Irishman himself, will reap spectacular reward. Monty knows from experience how an act of faith by a Ryder Cup captain can flick the switch in a player's head and yield rich dividends. The Scotsman hadn't won in nearly two years when European skipper Bernhard Langer handed him a pick for the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills. Monty responded by winning three points and sinking the putt which clinched a record-breaking victory over the United States.
Significantly, he paired up with Harrington for the opening match against Hal Sutton's ‘Dream Team' of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the European duo setting the tone for an unforgettable weekend in Detroit with a famous victory.
His confidence rekindled, Montgomerie, then 40, embarked on an Indian summer in his career as he registered three more victories on Tour and clinched his place on the Ryder Cup team at The K Club in 2006.
Harrington, 39 today, has the class and the know-how not just to become a force once again at the Ryder Cup but to win more Major titles. Exhausted by a fraught final bid to get onto the European team at The K Club and utterly spent after winning two Major titles in the six weeks before Valhalla, one can understand why Harrington flopped at the past two Ryder Cups. Yet his stunning loss of consistency this season is less easy to comprehend.
Harrington believes errors in his schedule left him needing a Ryder Cup wild card. Yet it really can only be attributed to poor golf, especially at this year's Majors, in which the Dubliner missed three out of four cuts and managed only a workman-like 22nd behind Graeme McDowell in the US Open.
In the death-or-glory atmosphere at this year's Ryder Cup, the European captain expects the real Harrington to re-emerge ... and merely by selecting him, Montgomerie has given the Dubliner the morale boost he needed to turn around his season and reignite his flagging career.
Every time one turns a card, it's a gamble. Yet if his faith in Harrington does the trick, the payoff for Monty and Europe at Celtic Manor should be spectacular.
At his best, Harrington is the greatest European player of his generation, leagues ahead of Casey or Rose, McDowell or McIlroy, or even the magnificent Molinari brothers. And that's the guy Montgomerie has invited to Celtic Manor.
And don't be surprised if the Dubliner, relieved to put recent Ryder Cup dramas behind him and boosted by his captain's confidence, shoots the lights out in Boston.