NEWPORT, Wales – Colin Montgomerie wants all those European fans to take another day off.
The Ryder Cup was supposed to end Sunday, but two long rain delays forced the competition into Monday for the first time. Fearful of overcrowding, officials decided to only allow those with final-day tickets to return for the deciding matches at water-logged Celtic Manor.
Of course, some of those 40,000 ticket-holders surely had to be at work or had travel plans that couldn’t be changed. That is sure to mean smaller crowds cheering on the home team when it needs them most, a prospect that seemed a bit troubling to the European captain.
“Quite a few of them might need a sick note,” Montgomerie quipped after Europe surged into a three-point lead heading to singles with one of its most brilliant team performances ever. “We do hope that as many people as possible with Sunday tickets will turn up.”
Monty asked course officials if fans with Sunday and Friday tickets could be allowed in, boosting the potential crowd and paying back those who saw only a few hours of golf the first day (play was suspended for more than seven hours because of heavy rain).
That wasn’t possible.
“Imagine if all 40,000 today turn up and all 40,000 Friday turn up, the course couldn’t cope,” Montgomerie said. “Unfortunately, we have to limit it to people with Sunday tickets, and I think that’s only fair.”
Celtic Manor already was pushed to the brink by torrential rain that turned many of the areas outside the ropes into something more suited for a tractor pull.
After more rain pounded the course, delaying play Sunday by almost four hours, the gates didn’t open to fans until 11 a.m.
“There was a health and safety issue here,” Montgomerie said. “It was touch and go whether any spectators were out on the course today at all.”
Celtic Manor’s owner, Sir Terry Matthews, built the new Twenty Ten course mainly for the notoriety it could bring to his resort and the boost it could give to Wales, which is hosting the Ryder Cup for the first time. All that rain surely hasn’t been much of a selling point to potential tourists.
“Everybody involved in organizing this first Ryder Cup in Wales is deeply disappointed by the weather,” Matthews said in a statement, “but our biggest disappointment is for the spectators and sponsors who deserve so much better.”
Many have questioned the wisdom of hosting the event at one of the rainiest times of year in this country, but Matthews said the bad weather was simply a case of bad luck.
“We could have played this event exactly one year ago or exactly one week ago and we would have experienced no interruptions to the schedule of play,” he said. “But one thing we cannot control is the weather.”
BUZZING AMERICANS: Stewart Cink asked to have Matt Kuchar as a partner.
Good thing the captain went along.
The Georgia Tech alums and good friends were the most successful pairing for the Americans during team play, winning one match and halving two others.
Without them, the Americans would be facing an even more daunting deficit than the three-point margin they’ll have to overcome in singles Monday.
Cink’s putter has been hot, while Kuchar has steadily improved since a shaky start.
“Certainly, there’s been some good play,” Kuchar said. “I’ve been pleased I’ve kind of gotten better every day. I’m pleased with Stewart and we paired up pretty well together, took two of three points, and I feel like it’s been a good performance I put in. I feel like it’s been getting stronger.”
They won’t be able to lean on each other anymore. Cink will go out in the second match, facing Rory McIlroy, while Kuchar was placed in the fifth slot against Ian Poulter. The Americans must win 7 1/2 out of 12 points to retain the cup, a tough task playing on the road.
“We have to continue to do well in the singles,” Kuchar said.
BROTHER ACT: As the Molinaris went to the 18th hole, trailing again, they surely were aware that being the first siblings to play in the Ryder Cup since 1963 wouldn’t mean a thing if they couldn’t produce at least a half-point for the European team.
Edoardo put his wedge shot about 15 feet from the flag. His little brother Francesco stuck his even closer – just 3 feet away.
When big brother missed his putt, Francesco knew he had to come through. Plagued all day by a shaky putter, he knocked this one right in the center of the cup for the birdie that won the hole, halved the match and gave Europe a potentially important half-point.
“It was a great finish,” Edoardo said.
The Molinaris went to No. 18 one hole down, facing the prospect of being the only European team not to score on Sunday. They were playing with passion and flair, but already had lost one match and faced another defeat largely because of Francesco’s shaky putter, which missed on several short attempts.
But the Italians caught a break when Cink drove into a bunker on the par-5 finishing hole, a mistake that took him out of contention for making birdie. Kuchar had to lay up in front of the water with his second shot, and only got within 25 feet of the flag with his wedge into the green, not close enough for a strong chance at birdie.
“When Cink missed the drive in the bunker, it was two against one,” Edoardo said. “We definitely had an advantage and we were good enough to win the hole.”
With the match all-square at No. 16, Francesco elected to putt first to save par even though he was closer than his brother. The move backfired. Francesco missed another one from inside 10 feet, his brother also missed and the Americans regained the lead.
But Francesco’s putt at 18 made up for it.
“We played very well,” Edoardo said. “I think we deserve our half-point at least.”
European captain Colin Montgomerie praised the Italians more than anyone else, knowing that halving a match will surely help their confidence going into singles play. Francesco will be playing Tiger Woods in the eighth match Monday, followed by his brother against Rickie Fowler.
“To do what they did at that last hole, two rookies, two brothers coming down that last hole with everybody who plays golf in Europe watching them,” Montgomerie said. “Fantastic performance to hole that putt at the last by Francesco. Fabulous.”
CARRYING THE LOAD: One of the most overlooked members of the European team is Ross Fisher.
While players such as Lee Westwood and Luke Donald garner much of the attention, Fisher’s performance has been invaluable.
Paired with Ian Poulter in the opening fourballs, Fisher’s team lost to Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in a tight match.
Captain Colin Montgomerie then juggled his teams, pairing Fisher with struggling Padraig Harrington. The Irishman continues to have his problems, but Fisher has picked up the slack in two victories. They beat Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson in alternate shot, then took out Johnson and Jim Furyk in fourballs.
“He certainly played the best golf probably anyone has ever seen in a Ryder Cup,” Harrington said. “He made all the shots, holed all the putts. He really did play awesome.”
Fisher got the Europeans going with three straight birdies early in Sunday’s match, and he made three more on the back side – including the clinching birdie putt at No. 17.
“I just had so much fun out there,” Fisher said. “Being with Paddy again, you know you’re with a great champion, a three-time major champion, and he showed his class. I got him to read my putts, and every time I was standing over a putt, I felt so confident.”
DIVOTS: The depth of the European team is evident: All 12 players helped score at least a half-point in team matches. Lee Westwood (2-0-1) and Martin Kaymer (2-0-1) lead the way, while Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher and Luke Donald have been in on two wins apiece. … Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker are the only Americans with two wins, and even that mark is tarred by the biggest loss of the team competition, a 6-and-5 blowout by Westwood and Donald. Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, who were sent out in the very first match by the U.S., are both 0-3. They lost twice as partners, then were beaten again after the pairings were switched up for the third session. … The win by Westwood and Donald was the biggest in alternate shot since Sam Torrance and Costantino Rocca beat Davis Love III and Jeff Maggert by the same margin in 1995. … Donald is 6-0 in alternate shot matches in his Ryder Cup career.