Padraig Harrington giving Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie food for thought
As Corey Pavin considers Tiger Woods for his Ryder Cup wildcard selection, the US captain isn't the only man being given a headache by his most accomplished player.
European skipper Colin Montgomerie has been placed in an equally difficult situation by three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington — not forgetting Luke Donald and Paul Casey.
At least the troubled Tiger fought to the last for his place on the US team.
Harrington, Donald and Casey made their priorities clear when they opted out of the final European Ryder Cup qualifier at Gleneagles this week to play at the Barclays, the first of the US PGA Tour's FedEx Cup play-offs.
How their attitude differs to that of gallant Swede Peter Hanson, who sought an invite to last week's Czech Open and then forced his way into the Ryder Cup reckoning with a fantastic sudden-death victory over Ireland's Peter Lawrie and England's Gary Boyd on Sunday.
Simon Dyson also deserves credit for a madcap dash by plane, train and automobile from the US PGA to the Czech Republic, where a fifth-place finish helped rekindle his prospects of making the Ryder Cup team.
Dyson is one of three players who can force their way into the top nine in the European Ryder Cup rankings at Gleneagles this weekend. The other two are Englishman Ross McGowan and Spain's Alvaro Quiros.
Edoardo Molinari definitely requires a captain's pick and the Italian's case is strengthened by his victory in July's Scottish Open and the fact that his younger brother, Franceso, with whom he won the World Cup last November, is already in the side.
\[Peter Hutcheon\]4 Montgomerie has a powerful backroom team in Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley ... yet, among the 12 players, he couldn't ask for a closer ally and confidant than Harrington, his former Ryder Cup playing partner. They've known good days together, not least their crucial victory over Hal Sutton's 'Dream Team' of Woods and Mickelson in the pipe-opener at Oakland Hills. Friendships forged under fire aren't easily broken ... and Harrington has spoken at length with Monty about his situation.
\[Peter Hutcheon\]5 The controversial decision by Harrington to play The Barclays this week and not Gleneagles suggests making the Ryder Cup isn't life-or-death to him. This is good, especially considering his failure to live up to his own lofty expectations at recent Majors. While his poor display at Valhalla could be attributed to fatigue. the Dubliner plainly was weighed down by great expectations at The K Club in 2006. Harrington's at his finest when he just goes out and plays.
Three reasons why Monty might leave Harrington at home:
1. After showing the potential to become one of the greatest players in history by winning three out of six Majors in 13 months, Harrington tinkered with his swing but lost it. Though the pursuit of perfection never ends for golf's elite, Harrington was never going to improve on Birkdale or Oakland Hills. Instead, he lost consistency and confidence and, arguably, needs a pick now because he's not the player he was.
2. After saying he'd be 'gutted' and ‘devastated' not to play in the Ryder Cup, Harrington made nonsense of those words by opting not to try and play his way onto the team in the Czech Open last weekend and Gleneagles this week. No matter how well Ian Poulter did at Valhalla, he should not have received a wild card after skipping the final qualifying event two years ago and, morally, it's almost as hard to justify a pick for Harrington, Casey, Donald and Rose now.
>\[Peter Hutcheon\]3 When Harrington, Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Luke Donald, decided they'd skip Europe's final two qualifiers and stay in the US for The Barclays, they left Monty with no option but to row back on his warning that Ryder Cup contenders would be advised to turn up at Gleneagles. With three wild cards on offer, two or even three members of the 'Gang of Four' could be disappointed if the captain takes exception to having his hand forced in this way.
4 Fatigue hampered Harrington at Valhalla in 2008, which came so soon after his back-to-back victories at the Majors. Yet has his evolution into one of the most formidable grinders in golf left him less well equipped for the cut and thrust of match play? One point (a half in foursomes with McGinley in 2006 and another with Karlsson at Valhalla) represents a paltry return from nine matches in Harrington's last two Ryder Cups.
3. One might expect Harrington to play a commanding role in the backroom. Yet he's first to admit that tub-thumping or rousing speeches aren't in his nature. For sure, he'll offer sound advice and good example but his 'experience' in winning 8.5 points out of 21 at five Ryder Cups is not as persuasive, perhaps, as July's Scottish Open victory by Edoardo Molinari, especially as the Italian's brother Francesco, with whom he won the World Cup last year, is already in the team.