Commentary

Let Ryder Cup second-guessing begin

Originally Published: August 29, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

This was never going to be easy for Colin Montgomerie, and if you take him at his word, it ranked among the most stressful days in a 25-year career full of them.

"And I didn't even hit a shot," Monty said in Scotland, where he added Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Edoardo Molinari to his European Ryder Cup team.

On the surface, all looks fine.

You've got Harrington, a three-time major champion who will play in his sixth Ryder Cup.

You've got Donald, who won earlier this year on the European Tour in Spain, is ranked 10th in the world (and going higher) and has an impressive 5-1-1 record in two previous Ryder Cup appearances.

And you've got Molinari, who birdied the final three holes Sunday at Gleneagles to capture the Johnnie Walker Championship, a second European Tour victory along with his Scottish Open victory in July.

As Monty said, Edoardo Molinari will make the perfect partner for his brother, Francesco, who had already made the team.

But, of course, it is not that simple.

Left off were two players with previous Ryder Cup experience, ranked among the top 22 in the world and probably just as deserving as the three who were chosen.

No. 9 in the world Paul Casey, who finished tied for third at the Open Championship, and No. 22 Justin Rose, winner against elite fields earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Memorial and the AT&T National, were left out.

Some, such as Montgomerie, will say that just proves "the strength of European golf."

Others will point to conspiracies and friendships and politics, although the pick of Molinari on merit should go a long way toward diluting such thoughts.

Still, Rose and especially Casey will always be left to wonder whether showing up at the final qualifying event in Scotland would have made a difference. Casey was in the running to make the team on his own with a solid showing.

Montgomerie had said earlier this year at the Celtic Manor Wales Open -- which is home to the Oct. 1-3 Ryder Cup -- that anyone expecting a wild-card selection needed to show up at Gleneagles.

He backed off those comments recently when it became apparent that Harrington, Donald, Rose and Casey would be taking part in the Barclays, the first event of the four-tournament FedEx Cup series.

And that foursome endured criticism over it. Plenty in Europe wondered about their loyalty to the tour if FedEx Cup riches meant more than Ryder Cup glory.

Even assistant captain Paul McGinley, an Irishman, friend and former partner of Harrington's, questioned his decision to stay in America.

"Everything was a shame," McGinley told reporters over the weekend at Gleneagles. "Padraig was a thousand euro out of the team before last week, so make up your own mind. It's disappointing."

The inference was that a decent showing at either the Czech Open or Gleneagles would have put Harrington on the team on his own. Instead, lesser lights Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez snagged the final two qualifying positions.

The other members to qualify were Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, major champions Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher and Francesco Molinari.

"We had an embarrassment of riches on this occasion," Montgomerie said. "I and our team here had to leave out world stars. Justin Rose and Paul Casey are the world stars."

Harrington's pick comes under more scrutiny when you consider he has not won in more than two years and his most recent two Ryder Cup appearances produced a single point between them.

Montgomerie, who has partnered with Harrington at past Ryder Cups, pointed to his stature and experience.

"Padraig Harrington is someone who we feel nobody in match-play golf wants to play," Montgomerie said. "A great competitor and someone that will bring everything to the team … who gives 100 percent to any cause and whose presence is a boost to the team."

What will surely be debated going forward is the European selection process. You could argue that Rose and Casey did more on a world stage to justify a spot on the team than did Francesco Molinari, Jimenez or Hanson. Francesco Molinari did not win this year, but Casey was runner-up at a major and Rose won twice on the PGA Tour.

Montgomerie was not about to get into that discussion Sunday.

"Our decision is based on 14½," Monty said, referring to the number of points necessary for victory at Celtic Manor. "That's our magic number now."

[+] EnlargeJustin Rose
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesDespite two PGA Tour wins since June, Justin Rose won't be competing in the Ryder Cup this Oct. 1-3.

In Europe, especially Great Britain, it could be argued that the Ryder Cup is on par with a major championship -- and perhaps in some ways surpasses it.

The competition is a great source of pride -- and money -- for the European Tour, which makes no secret of the fact that the financial windfall the matches produce when played in Europe is a necessary boon to the tour.

Contrast that to the United States, whose attitude toward the Ryder Cup is typically somewhat indifferent -- some might say arrogant -- until about, well … now

Americans do not follow the lead-up to the matches with the same fervor. In Europe, they're talking about Ryder Cup ramifications almost from the moment the qualification process begins -- if not sooner.

U.S. players have a Presidents Cup every other year that somewhat dulls the enthusiasm in non-Ryder Cup years. There is not the same sense of "playing for your tour" as there is in Europe. The Ryder Cup in the United States is run by the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour, although there is a much more straightforward qualification process based on PGA Tour play.

That, among other things, is what leads to the passion and angst in Europe.

It's not wrong, just different.

In a nod toward European Tour players competing around the world and not necessarily on their home tour, a qualification process that involves the world rankings was put into place several years ago. It is not straight off the world rankings but rather considers world ranking points earned in the qualification period.

The top four on that list make the team, with the remaining five automatic qualifiers going to those not already qualified who perform the best on a European Tour points list based on money earnings.

In a bit of irony, if the five on the European money list had been given priority, Harrington, Rose, Donald and Edoardo Molinari would have made the team on their own by virtue of being the next-best quartet on the world rankings list, making Monty's selection process far less difficult.

He then could have picked Casey, and his Sunday in Scotland would have been far more enjoyable, with far less second-guessing in his future.

"I must admit, since my days when I was a rookie myself in 1991, I don't think any captain has had the same difficulty in trying to select three," Montgomerie said. "I wish this team could contain 20 names."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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