Pod’s going to need to up his game
However much relief Padraig Harrington may feel at keeping his Ryder Cup place, he must know the tough bit is still to come.
However much relief Padraig Harrington may feel at keeping his Ryder Cup place, thanks to captain and former partner Colin Montgomerie, he must know the tough bit is still to come.
That’s because the three-time major champion, who has not won any of his last nine games against the Americans or any of his last 55 tournaments stretching back more than two years, must now justify his wildcard and the fact that it kept out two of Europeans best exponents of Ryder Cup type match play .
Luke Donald’s cup pedigree, with just one defeat out of seven and a 100% foursomes record, always made it likely he was going to return after missing the last match through injury.
Edoardo Molinari’s remarkable last 18 months, during which he has risen from 653rd in the world to his now career-high 15th and has grabbed two titles in Scotland, one in China and one in Japan, proved impossible to resist – especially as he won the last counting event with three dramatic closing birdies and his brother and World Cup-winning partner Francesco was already in the side.
But Montgomerie has put his faith in Harrington, 39 today, to turn back the clock and strut his stuff like he used to.
Being preferred to Paul Casey and Justin Rose – one the current world number eight and a match play specialist, the other a double winner in America this summer who had a singles win over Phil Mickelson to make it three points out of four on his debut two years ago – puts as much pressure on Harrington as there was on Ian Poulter last time.
Poulter’s response, of course, was to be the leading scorer at Valhalla, even in a losing cause, with four points out of five.
Can Harrington, whose last cup win was his 2004 singles victory against Jay Haas, do the same?
“Padraig Harrington has won three major championships in the last three years, has stature and is someone we feel that nobody in match play golf wants to play,” said Montgomerie.
A few hours later the Dubliner dropped from 12th to 47th with a last round 75 in the first of the FedEx Cup play-offs, the tournament he chose ahead of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, where fifth place could have qualified him and freed up another wildcard.
Not that he was alone in that, of course. He, Casey, Donald and Rose had been dubbed the “FedEx Four” because of their stance, although “Ryder Renegades” was a possible alternative.
“I’m not concerned about his form at all,” said Montgomerie, admittedly before the last round was completed in New Jersey.
“I think when Padraig’s back is up against the wall he comes out and produces fantastic performances. And I’m expecting that at Celtic Manor.”
Casey and Rose were 12th and 15th at The Barclays, which moved the former up a place in the world and kept the latter at fourth in the race for the £6.4million FedEx first prize.
By coincidence, Harrington and Casey were playing together, which was cruel on Casey when the Irishman’s wife gave her husband the thumbs-up sign on hearing about his cup selection, but indicated nothing to Casey.
“It went fairly quiet. I figured that was it,” said Casey, who later looked close to tears as the disappointment sunk in.
Harrington, who has never needed a pick before and led the qualifiers two years ago and in 2004, said: “On one hand I’m happy for myself, but I did genuinely feel sorry for Paul. I commiserated with him. It’s not a nice place to be.
“There’s no doubt myself and Paul, Justin and Luke didn’t play enough in Europe to make it on the team automatically. I didn’t set my schedule properly.”
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