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September 29, 2010

Truth & Rumors: Paddy cleans out Poulter, U.S. pride on the line

En Fuego Irishman

There's no doubt that European captain Colin Montgomerie has taken a lot of heat for selecting struggling vet Padraig Harrington in lieu of (among others) Justin Rose and Paul Casey. If the practice rounds this week are anything to go by, Monty might be able to breath a sigh of relief when all is said and done. According to the Irish Golf Desk's Brian Keogh, Harrington and partner Luke Donald took a nice chunk of change off their teammates yesterday.

Padraig Harrington sent Ian Poulter scuttling to the cash machine to pay off his debts after hitting red-hot form at Celtic Manor.

Poulter confessed that he and Irish Open champion Ross Fisher were “cleaned out” by Harrington and Luke Donald to the tune of nearly €450 when the Dubliner hit two eagles and a handful of birdies in a practice fourball clash.

Believing Harrington will justify his wildcard and become a real danger man this week, Poulter groaned: “Paddy played exceptionally well this morning, which is great for the team but bad for my pocket.

“He drove it straight and long and put it in position for 18 holes today and that’s great. I’ve got nothing left thanks to Luke and Padraig. They cleaned me out, cleaned Ross and myself out. “Paddy had two eagles today and he horseshoed out from 40 feet to make it three eagles. They made an awful lot of birdies and eagles out there. Good fun - for them.”

Did you feel a sudden draft? Don't go to close your window, that's just Monty patting himself on the back from 4,000 miles away:

Harrington’s brilliant form has delighted European skipper Colin Montgomerie who is convinced that the triple major winning Dubliner is going to do the business for him when the action starts on Friday. Asked abut the flak he has taken for handing Harrington a wildcard, Monty said: “I feel the criticism was very unjustified to be honest. “I know what Padraig Harrington can do, and that’s why he was picked. He’s like a rookie out there today...

“There’s reasons why Padraig Harrington was picked, and judge me about that selection on October the 4th and not on September the 28th.”

While I believe there is no one (including Harrington himself) happier than Monty to see Padraig playing well, his tone has as much fear as pride. Monty knows what's on the line here -- he went out on a huge limb taking Harrington with two vastly more defensible options in front of him. Montgomerie already dodged one bullet when Paul Casey couldn't close the deal at the Tour Championship, but unless Harrington plays well this weekend (or the Euro team rolls even without him), that decision could haunt Monty for a long, long time.

Pride on the Line?

If the Ryder Cup had to be boiled down into one word, it would have to be "Pride." Every great Cup moment (and most of the terrible ones -- Azinger and Seve anyone?) came down to personal, professional and national pride. This year will be no different, but NBC's Dan O'Neill says that the U.S. team members are playing for more than just their country, they're playing to show they still own the "American" tour.

So what's on the line here? What are we really talking about: gift bags, cocktail parties, patriotic pomp? Or is there really something of substance on the line at Celtic Manor?

On at least one level, albeit somewhat undefinable, there is.

From late April until the start of the FedExCup Playoffs, non-Americans won 12 of 17 events on the PGA Tour, also known as the American tour. The season started with Phil Mickelson's feel-good story at Augusta National. It ended with foreign-good stories, as the next three majors were won by players not fully affiliated with the PGA Tour. Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open, South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open and Germany's Martin Kaymer captured the PGA Championship...

The bottom line is the Red, White and Bland has its work cut out, as well as something to prove. The game may not have been invented in America, but for many years it was perfected here. That is becoming less obvious as the PGA Tour becomes increasingly cut with European, Australian, South African and global talents.

The integration hasn't quite reached the flush level of the Asian presence on the LPGA Tour, but the trend is undeniable. The balance of power in golf is shifting, and the Ryder Cup is the perfect backdrop for an American rebuttal.

Our preppie pros truly are competing for some semblance of American pride. This time, it appears the Boys of Ashworth have a statement to make, an affirmation that says the backbone of competitive golf still resides in the good, ol' U.S. of A.

Sure it's got an odd mix of jingoism and self-effacing preppie-bashing, but it's hard to argue with O'Neill that this Ryder Cup presents a great opportunity for the U.S. team to stand up and say "Hey, we're still pretty good over here." The press has done a great job making a team with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker an underdog, now it's their job to finish off the fairytale with a win.

Hubba Bubba

The New York Post has a small note about remarks Bill Clinton made at the Great Sports Legends Dinner in New York on Monday. The former leader of the free world decided to honor one of golf's greatest players...and may have missed the mark.

When Clinton remarked, "I've dreamed of getting a lesson from Annika Sorenstam," the crowd interpreted the comment as a double entendre, not the compliment it presumably was meant to be. The nervous laughter that ensued had Clinton quickly moving on to the next honoree.

I think you've got to give Clinton a pass on this one. Despite what the Post seems to think (they refer to Sorenstam as a "hottie" twice in this piece), Annika isn't exactly a sex symbol in golf or otherwise. Still, something tells me Clinton won't be getting an invitation to speak at any Paula Creamer events in the near future.

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