Thin field offers no true preview of Ryder Cup

Colin Montgomerie

NEWPORT, Wales – The gray mist hanging over the Usk Valley brought rain to the Celtic Manor Resort and the Twenty Ten Course.

What else is new?

Maybe those clouds explain why Europe’s elite haven’t answered Colin Montgomerie’s call.

The European Ryder Cup captain made it plain when he took the job that he expected anyone interested in making this year’s Ryder Cup team to turn up at Celtic Manor to become familiar with the Twenty Ten Course. If the players here this week are any indication of who will be in the European team, then Monty will be fielding his Triple-A side against the United States this October.

Monty didn’t get a positive response last year, either. Miguel Angel Jimenez was the only member of the 2008 Ryder Cup team to turn up at Celtic Manor 12 months ago. That was understandable, because the match still was 18 months away.

This year’s Wales Open was expected to have a much stronger field. It is – but not by much.

Only four members of the 2008 team are entered this week. Jimenez is back. Soren Hansen, Oliver Wilson and Graeme McDowell join him.

Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Padraig Harrington, Henrik Stenson, Robert Karlsson and Sergio Garcia are the missing team members. At least Monty has potential players in Martin Kaymer, Ross Fisher and Alvaro Quiros.

However, there is no Rory McIlroy.

In fact, of the top 12 Europeans players in the Official World Golf Ranking, only four are in the field this week. Only two of the world top 30 are here.

Luke Donald gains huge brownie points for turning up, especially hard on the heels of winning last week’s Madrid Masters. He moved to No. 9 in the world after his first victory in four years. Kaymer, ranked No. 13, Quiros (33) and Fisher (34) are the other three.

You can’t blame those who aren’t here. After all, this week’s prize fund is only £1.8 million (approximately $2.6 million). That might sound like a lot of money to the layman, but not compared with other prize funds available.

PGA Tour-based players such as Poulter, Casey, Rose and Garcia have to pick their schedules carefully to make sure they fulfill their required 12 European Tour events. With the majors and WGC events counting toward both tours, it makes sense for Poulter & Co. to play in five events where they can get the most world-ranking and Ryder Cup points.

Besides, why would they make the Wales Open one of those five when other events will pay them appearance money?

Or maybe they didn’t fancy the potential prospect of playing four days in rainsuits!

Of course Monty won’t want to talk down this tournament. He’ll put as positive a spin on the field as possible when he holds his Ryder Cup news conference Wednesday.

Don’t let him fool you.

The clouds overhanging Celtic Manor today might be nothing compared with the dark shrouds of gloom that could besiege this place in October. There could be rivers of rain flowing down Celtic Manor’s fairways in four months’ time. That would serve the European Tour right for the ridiculous decision to stage golf’s greatest team contest in the Welsh rainy season.

At least the crème de la crème of European and U.S. golf will turn up in October regardless of the weather. What we have this week is nothing more than a B list tournament with a few cameo roles from A list stars.

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