Monty: Faldo Blew It, Therefore We Need Sandy!

From an unbylined report in The Guardian:
Asked if he thought Faldo got the best out of the team beaten by five points in Kentucky Montgomerie, who missed out on the action for the first time since 1989, replied: "Possibly not." And the eight-time European No1, who could have surpassed Faldo's cup points record had he been invited along, gave the broadest hint that the decision to put double Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington out last in the singles was the gravest error.
"It occurred to me [when he saw the order] that unfortunately [Ian] Poulter, [Lee] Westwood, Harrington are possibly our three strongest players and they might not be - might be, but might not be - involved in the final shake-up. Play them earlier and they would have been involved 100%. Only once in the whole history of the Ryder Cup has the No12 decided the match; Bernhard Langer in 1991."
Somehow I'm not so sure this is going to help, though Sandy Lyle found this "inspiring":
Montgomerie also believes that Sandy Lyle should succeed Faldo for the next tournament at Celtic Manor in 2010, despite growing calls for Welshman Ian Woosnam to return to guide the side to victory as he did at The K Club two years ago. Of Europe's "Big Five" of the 1980s - Seve Ballesteros, Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Lyle and Woosnam - only Lyle has not yet been given the captaincy. "I think it would be nice to see him," said Montgomerie. "I feel it would be a shame if it wasn't Sandy."

Final Ryder Cup Question: Would Rough Have Helped...

...of course not. But because we need to shift focus to the totally meaningless and devoid-of-drama Tour Championship, there is one more Ryder Cup question worth considering.

It was clear that the Azinger cut was enormous and from the scalping I saw, maybe a little tighter cut than originally planned. Based on the shots hit from it, the lies were almost comparable to fairway heights. So Valhalla's landing areas played 40-50 yards wide in most cases.

Yes, there were some ankle deep areas we'll call "native" but in terms of 3-4 inch fertilized and pampered stuff lining separating fairways from gallery ropes, there just wasn't much rough. Nor was there much around the greens. I recall one Hunter Mahan chip from behind a green (17?) sitting in some thick stuff, otherwise there is not another shot of significance that we saw played from the pitch-out junk that lines all too many fairways and engulfs putting surfaces.

Now, if this were a stroke play event and the boys faced this setup, people would be calling Valhalla names and downplaying the course's quality. If it were an individual stroke play event, the press would be calling it un-major like and not a true "test." Scores might have been, gasp, low and we'd be deprived of the flukish fascination of seeing drives just barely missing fairways getting a raw deal as wild miss-hits find a nice matted down lie.

So why isn't this rough-free Ryder Cup's integrity being questioned? Don't tell me it's little old "match play" giving it the free pass here.

Could it be that we're seeing a realization by the media that rough is a cancerous growth on any golf course and that it's been depriving us of excitement? Could the combination of the Masters losing its appeal, the U.S. Open climbing quickly thanks to tiered roughs and the PGA at Oakland Hills contrasting so starkly with Southern Hills, actually awakening the media to the vagaries of rough and absurd setup ploys?

I give to you example A of why I think this may be the case, but of course welcome your thoughts. Tim Rosaforte at GolfDigest.com writes:

Everybody talked about the way Azinger tweaked Valhalla, but it didn't really favor either side. What it did was create the most exciting shootout of the year, with holes being halved with birdies and flagsticks peppered with shots. It's too bad major golf associations such as the USGA don't take more of a page from this, letting the guys play with an open collar instead of a straightjacket. With the ball bounding on those Kentucky fairways and balls releasing off those contours toward the hole, it was similar to Augusta National when it was exciting, not the year's first U.S. Open.

Zinger's Pods

The raves are rolling in for Captain Paul Azinger. Douglas Lowe reviews the "pods" Azinger split his team into:

Azinger grouped what he called his four aggressive personalities, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Justin Leonard and Phil Mickelson in one set. None of this testosterone-laden quartet played with anyone else for the entire week and they were also the four that led the singles.
Then there were Azinger's steady-Eddies "that are just rock solid, unflappable personalities" of Stewart Cink, Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell. They, too, were a completely bonded four and in the singles, as you might expect, they anchored the team in spots nine to 12.
It was the other four that were probably key, the charismatic quartet of Kentuckians JB Holmes and Kenny Perry, Boo Weekley, the good ol' southern boy who was adopted as one of their own by the home fans, and the Florida-based Jim Furyk, who said: "I was trying to be as southern as I could this week."
Look at their results in the singles, and while the gung-ho, crowd-whipping opening four managed just a point and a half on the last day, the charismatic boys weighed in with an irrestible four out of four and put the blockers on Nick Faldo's plans to bring it down to the wire to his strong four at the tail end.

Tim Rosaforte also writes about the pods, says there's no doubt this team bonds and wins with Tiger, then asks...

What foursome would Tiger been a part of? Past history shows it wouldn't have worked to slot Woods with Mickelson, so it would have been T-Dub and the country bumpkins. "Tiger would have been with Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes and Boo Weekley," Azinger said. "It would have been unbelievable. Tiger and Holmes? Tiger and Boo?"
T-Dub?

Jeff Lancaster reported yesterday that Lee Westwood was not happy with Azinger's attempts to make the crowd his "13th man" by telling them they could cheer Europe's missed putts, were to blame for the less savoury moments of crowd behaviour.

After the United States won by 16 to 11, to reclaim the trophy for the first time since 1999, Westwood revealed he had been abused "from start to finish". The 34-year-old did not want to repeat what was shouted at him but did reveal one was a "particularly nasty reference to my mother" and that his parents had also been woken by a phone call at 4.30am on Sunday.

"They were trying to ring me but called the wrong hotel and got the wrong Westwood," he added. "It really upset my dad's preparations for walking around the course. I also got a phone call at 12:30am wishing me good luck.
"I must be taking on the Monty role. Let's pick on the old guy with a few grey hairs."
His agent decided this could be a PR problem and issued this statement today regretting the comments.

John Hopkins sees irony in the way things played out:

How ironic it was that the United States won the Ryder Cup in part because Nick Faldo, the Europe captain for whom no detail was too small, was outmanoeuvred by Paul Azinger, the US captain who would always try to wing it but for this match spared nothing in his quest for a first US victory for nine years. In Kentucky, the biter was well and truly bitten. 

Rosaforte lists the possible successors while Steve Elling explains Davis Love's mixed feelings about being a candidate.

Ryder Cup Ratings Up!

Pretty impressive considering the competition from the NFL and MLB.

From Tod Leonard's golf column:

The Ryder Cup is one event that got a bump in television ratings despite not having Woods. The national overnight Nielsen rating for NBC's six-hour Sunday telecast was 3.7, up 22 percent from the final day in '06, when the U.S. got blown out early in the morning (U.S. time) in Ireland.

Woosie: I'm Available!

From an unbylined report on Ian Woosnam wanting the 2010 gig:

He told The Sun: 'If the players want me back I would be delighted to do it. It is one of the greatest honours a golfer can get.'

He added: 'I’ve already had my turn and don’t want to put anyone else’s nose out. But as I’ve always said you have got to put your name forward if you want it.'


Second Ryder Cup Question: Did Tiger's Absence Help?

Brian Murphy makes a compelling point:

But Tiger and the Ryder Cup, no matter what he says publicly, and no matter how supportive he is in the Team Room, are a weird mix. I always flash back to the moment in ‘04 at Oakland Hills when we were pressing Tiger on whether or not he cared about the Ryder Cup, and Tiger finally had enough and asked us: “How many majors has Jack Nicklaus won?” Dutifully, we all answered “18.” Tiger then asked, “And what’s his Ryder Cup record?” When we all sat there like dumbstruck sheep, unable to produce the answer, Tiger sat back, satisfied.

Team USA has now won as many Ryder Cups without Tiger (one) as it has with Tiger in five other Cups. Tiger was part of a losing team in 1997, 2002, ‘04 and ‘06, and while there are tons of reasons other than Tiger why they lost those Cups, I had a feeling that his absence would be important two ways.

One, it would allow Team USA to operate in a Tiger-free zone, not worrying about what he thinks or says, or having to answer any questions about him. His absence allowed rookies like Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim and J.B. Holmes to play and act more naturally.

Azinger has said that a key moment in the week was the Thursday night pep rally in front of 4,000 that was supposed to only be attended by the Captain. Then the team decided to crash it and apparently bonded. I couldn't help but think that Tiger would not have wanted to attend because of the security issues and the desire to get his rest prior to a long day one.

But there's also this key point from Mike Adamson in The Guardian:

Likewise it is hard, albeit not impossible, to imagine the debutants Anthony Kim and Boo Weekley playing with such uninhibited personality were they in Woods's shadow. Although Azinger lost the world's best player, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that his uplifting captaincy has also benefited from the absence of such an intimidating figure in the team room.

Think Tiger's absence helped?

Poulter: Kim Hit On Me!

Well, he hit him, or so the blonde wonder claimed after chewing on Saturday's incident during the long flight back to England.

Mike Adamson confirms what Tim Rosaforte first reported on NBC Sunday morning: it was a shoulder barge. But Poulter wouldn't say who, just that he was short, had just lost his match with Phil Mickelson and his last named was started with a K and ended with an M.

It is believed the culprit was Anthony Kim, who led America's rout on Sunday with victory over Sergio García. Kim and Poulter were caught on television exchanging words after they collided during the Englishman's Saturday fourballs match, a game Kim was following. Without identifying the player, Europe's top points-scorer said: "He hadn't played very well and decided to walk around in the afternoon and make his point. As opposed to walking around me as I was walking off the tee, he shoulder-barged through me. It was pathetic. He should grow up. I said: 'That wasn't awfully nice.' I said in the team room: 'Let's use their energy and turn that in our favour.'"


WorldGolf.com: "Fight breaks out on shuttle bus among drunk media after Ryder Cup Matches"

Brandon Tucker files the best exclusive of the week:

According to our shuttle bus driver from Valhalla to downtown Louisville, her van turned into The Octagon.
“There were two Americans in the van and the rest British,” she recalled. “One of the Americans said something about Sergio’s putting…and they started arguing.”
It’s about a 30-minute drive from Valhalla to the downtown hotels. The argument escalated along the way.
“When we arrived at the hotel, they got out of the van and went to blows,” she added. “They scratched my van!”
First and foremost: what is there to argue about Sergio's putting?

Scribblers and lens luggers: I want names and details. Now!


First Ryder Cup Question: Was Faldo Really That Bad?

Paul Hayward of the Daily Mail lays into "Captain Calamity" while AP's Robert Milwood compiles the other not-so-flattering morning headlines.

Nick Faldo, not the crowd, was America’s 13th Man, sending an aircraft carrier to a conflict that was already over.
Hindsight is the media’s favourite language, but there is no escaping the gruesome fact that, when the Americans broke Europe’s Ryder Cup dominance here last night Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and the dual Open champion Padraig Harrington, were all stranded on the Valhalla course.
And...
Emotionally overcome by Muhammad Ali’s visit, and the tension of a draining week, the captain’s gaucheness in press conferences and at the opening ceremony were minor foibles compared to yesterday’s aberration.
Maybe the warning came when Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia were rested in Saturday morning’s foursomes. The abiding point is that Europe squandered their man-for-man advantage over an inferior American dozen. To have the better team and lose is the mark of all managerial fowl-ups.
Okay folks, was he that bad?

Poulter played brilliant golf and justified his selection.

Oliver Wilson came through Saturday morning when stars were benched.

Padraig, Garcia and Westwood weren't even close to resembling themselves.

A few putts here and there and Europe wins. Oh and Faldo, made up for the opening ceremonies speech with an excellent presentation at the closing ceremonies.

And just think, by losing this time the Ryder Cup has been restored to its place as golf's most thrilling and anticipated event.

Thoughts?

Monday Ryder Cup Clippings

On GolfDigest.com's Ryder Cup Rumblings you can find my final installment of the daily clippings analysis, or you can access it directly here.

There's also an archive of all posts for the week.

I'm also really enjoying your comments. Great stuff, keep it coming. I'm especially happy to see how many people equated the reasonable setup with the quality of the golf we saw. Oddly, there have not been articles about that yet, and I've been looking!


Saturday Ryder Cup Clippings

It's going to be tough to top Friday for drama, shotmaking, strategic second-guessing,  incredible atmosphere, and media coverage to match, so soak up Saturday mornings clippings and if you missed anything, here's the entire Ryder Cup Rumblings archive to date.

Make sure to check in during the day at GolfDigest.com as I'm posting all weekend.


Red Numbers Can Be The Game's Friend!

Over at GolfDigest.com I posted about some of the nuances we're seeing today that have bred some downright thrilling Ryder Cup golf.  It's so simple really. A little room off the tee, hole locations not buried in places to prevent birdies, green speeds within reason and an overall philosophy of allowing for aggressive play.

The question I ask, as always: why can't we do this all the time in golf?

Is protecting par really that sacred?

Is everyone able to watch day one enjoying it as much as I am?

"Unashamedly, we have to be commercial when we allocate the event"

I posted this as the last item on the GolfDigest.com clippings post along with a few more new items, and while the matches are proving quite compelling so far, I'd hate to see this item get forgotten. Paul Kelso writes:

George O'Grady, chief executive of the European Tour, is proud of the commercial profile that the event now enjoys and says there is no limit to where it might be staged; he would even consider staging it in Dubai, soon to be the setting for the European Tour finale.

"Unashamedly, we have to be commercial when we allocate the event," he said this week. "The Ryder Cup underwrites the finances of the Tour and funds all the game development and charitable work we do. Every penny we make goes back into the game, but we have to make as much as we can from the home match."

O'Grady believes the tournament has thrived because it delivers measurable benefits to the regions that act as host, and does not rule out a match in the Middle East.

Unashamedly, won't someone step up and explain to the European Tour that it's one thing to subject us to some truly awful golf courses, but another thing entirely to go outside of Europe?