NEWPORT, Wales – Sergio Garcia has been running all over Celtic Manor – cheering the Europeans, offering tips to the rookies, relaying messages to his boss, keeping up with all the matches.
Make no mistake, El Nino would rather be playing.
But this is the next best thing.
“It’s just so special,” Garcia said. “All of the cheers and all of the singing and everything, you just don’t get it anywhere.”
The 30-year-old Spaniard is serving as an assistant captain for the European team, a role that usually goes to over-the-hill golfers in their 40s and 50s.
Garcia has been mired in a slump and knew he had no chance of being named to his sixth straight Ryder Cup team, even with a career record of 14-3-3. So he asked captain Colin Montgomerie if he could help as a vice captain.
Monty already had named Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley as his assistants, but he decided to bring Garcia aboard, too.
“It’s fantastic that a 30-year-old can do that,” Montgomerie said. “He’s one of the youngest vice captains ever, and one of the best current players ever to be a vice captain. And it’s a real positive for the European team to have him in the team room, the passion that he brings to it.”
He compared Garcia’s love of the Ryder Cup to that of two other Spaniards: Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.
“I try to bring as much as I can,” Garcia said. “Unfortunately, I can’t bring any birdies, so I try to bring a little experience, a little joy, and just trying to help everybody as much as I can and make them feel as comfortable as possible.”
Maybe serving as a captain will help him get his career on the right track. Garcia hasn’t won a tournament in nearly two years, and he’s slipped to No. 59 in the world rankings.
“This is no doubt going to help me,” he said. “But that’s not the main goal. The main goal here this week is for the team to play well, for us to regain the cup.”
Olazabal also joined Montgomerie’s staff this weekend, returning to a role he said he’d never take again. He served the role two years ago under Nick Faldo, but didn’t want to be a deputy again because he said it lacked responsibility. Olazabal lost out to Montgomerie for the captaincy in January.
The 44-year-old Spaniard, who played in seven Ryder Cups, was in Wales for business when asked by Montgomerie to help in the second and third sessions.
Montgomerie praised all his assistants for making his job easier, even though they’ve been talking so much the captain needed three batteries to keep his radio going Saturday.
“The strength I have in those five guys on the golf course right now is second to none, and they have been superb on this radio, I tell you what,” Monty said. “I get reports on every shot, on every putt, on every incident, on every occasion, and they have been brilliant, the five of them on the course to keep me updated on everything.”
KIND OF BLUE: Monty wanted more blue on those Ryder Cup video screens.
The boards stationed around Celtic Manor had been showing various matches around the course, with not as much emphasis on the overall scores. European captain Colin Montgomerie asked officials to put up the scores from all the matches, hoping it would spur the home fans if they saw plenty of blue – the color used when a European team is ahead.
“The scoreboards are different this particular year, where every match comes up separately on the right-hand side of the scoreboard, as opposed to having a scoreboard that is the so-called old-fashioned scoreboard, where the plastic numbers are put up.”
Monty’s tactic worked perfectly in the third session Saturday. The Europeans were leading in all six matches when play was halted because of darkness.
“What I want to have out there is those six blue numbers on that left-hand side of that board shining very bright tomorrow morning, and to continue that way,” he said.
FOWLER’S FOLLY: Rickie Fowler made a rookie mistake, and it cost the U.S. team a hole.
Playing in his first Ryder Cup match, the 21-year-old Fowler inadvertently switched balls on the fourth hole while playing alternate shot with Jim Furyk. The mistake was noticed after he hit his shot, and the U.S. had to forfeit the hole.
Fowler was playing off of Furyk’s tee shot, which went way left into the muck. He got a drop onto the cart path but instead of picking up Furyk’s ball and placing it on the path, he pulled one out of his pocket.
“It was a mental error on all our parts,” Furyk said. “That’s just a mental error on mine and the caddie’s part and actually even the official – he was standing right there. It was a mental error everywhere.”
Fowler made up for it, though, making a 4-footer for birdie on the final hole to salvage a tie and a half-point for the U.S. in the match against Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
“For a young guy and being as young as he is, I’m very overly impressed with his maturity,” Furyk said. “I want over to kind of talk to him and try to calm him down. I think he might have been calming me down. He’s a cool customer.”
BROTHERS IN ARMS: Francesco and Edoardo Molinari had a built-in edge at the Ryder Cup, but being brothers didn’t help them in their debut.
The Molinaris, who won Italy’s first world team title last year, were beaten 2 up in their first Cup match by Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan. The Europeans pulled even at the 16th hole and had the crowd roaring, but the Americans won the final two holes of alternate shot.
“We didn’t get off to a good start,” Francesco said. “They made a great birdie at 17. But it’s very disappointing when you’re so close and you go away with not even a half-point.”
The Molinaris played the final nine holes at 1 under, but it wasn’t enough.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get the half-point,” Edoardo said. “We deserved it with the way we played on the back nine.”
The Italians were ahead in their second match against Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar when it was suspended because of darkness. Francesco gave them a big boost with a chip-in that improbably halved their final hole before play was called.
“It’s nice to get a little break, even if momentum is definitely on our side,” Francesco said. “We were playing well and hopefully we play even better tomorrow.”
DIVOTS: How great was Europe’s domination of the third session? Before play was suspended because of darkness, the home team had won 17 holes, the U.S. only four. The other 18 holes were halved. … Phil Mickelson lost his first two matches playing with Dustin Johnson, dropping Lefty’s Ryder Cup mark to 10-16-6. He switched to Fowler for the third session but was off to another rough start vs. Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer.