US desire gives Monty cause for concern
Paul Azinger turned the tables on Europe in the Ryder Cup two years ago by generating an irrepressible team spirit - and it appears to have become an enduring quality. The Americans certainly seem to be edging it in terms of attitude in the build-up to the 2010 match.
Current United States skipper Corey Pavin now knows two thirds of his side to play at Celtic Manor in October with the eight automatic qualifiers confirmed at the end of the USPGA Championship. He also knows that the players who have made it on to their side are thrilled to be there.
Amid the bitter disappointment of losing the final major of the year, both Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson spoke of delight that they had done enough to represent their country against Europe. For them, it was the primary objective of their week in Wisconsin.
Contrast that with the impression of ambivalence from the likes of Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey and Luke Donald, who are prepared to take their chances on a captain's pick rather than fight to the end of the qualification period for a place in Europe's team.
Bubba Watson (left) lost out to Martin Kaymer at the USPGA but a Ryder Cup place was consolation - photo: Getty
All three are planning to play in New York the week of the final counting tournament, the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, which starts on 26 August. So is Justin Rose, although he cannot now fight his way into an automatic spot.
Martin Kaymer's win at Whistling Straits means the German qualifies for the European team from the world ranking points list, knocking Donald out of automatic contention in the process. Casey's 12th-place finish at the USPGA took him above Harrington and into the final qualifying spot on the European money list.
But Casey remains vulnerable, while Harrington and Donald require wildcard picks from European captain Colin Montgomerie if they don't play at Gleneagles - and they say they won't be there.
Monty isn't getting much help from some of his biggest players here and it is quite conceivable that he will have to choose his three wildcards from a list that includes three-time major winner Harrington, a renowned matchplay specialist in Casey, world top tenner Donald and Rose, twice a winner on the PGA Tour this year.
Harrington, who is only 1,247 Euros behind Casey, says he isn't playing at Gleneagles to help keep himself fresh for the Ryder Cup. But if he has designs on going all the way to the Tour Championship in the PGA Tour's lucrative FedEx Cup series, he will end up playing in four of the five weeks leading up to the first week of October.
The Irishman would not be adding to his tally of tournaments but would be hampering his chances of hitting the $10m jackpot in the FedEx Cup.
Monty set himself up for a fall when he stated that he expected all players on the cusp of qualification to turn up at Gleneagles. He has already been forced into a humiliating climbdown on this issue by saying that he recognises why these players are going to stay away.
The beleaguered skipper is in no position to pick a fight with anyone at the moment and on BBC Radio 5 live on the eve of the Open, he did admit that Harrington was likely to receive a captain's pick.
Indeed, it is hard to ignore someone who has achieved so much individually in recent years but he hasn't won a match in the Ryder Cup since 2004.
Harrington should still be picked as he is undoubtedly among Europe's top dozen players, but wouldn't it be better for Europe if such an eminent figure had demonstrated to the rest of the team that he was prepared to fight all the way for his place.
Sir Nick Faldo set something of a precedent last time by selecting Ian Poulter and Casey, neither of whom made the effort to play in the qualifying event. Poulter was the European star at Valhalla but the overall team spirit never reached the heights of 2002, 04 and 06 victories.
Perhaps we are witnessing a reflection of the way in which the golfing power base is swinging towards Europe. Our players are the ones more regularly challenging for the biggest individual prizes and so therefore the Ryder Cup is no longer the most likely route to golfing glory for the continent's leading lights.
Ahead of the 2006 match at the K Club, I remember Tiger Woods telling me that he had always felt that the Europeans made too much of a big deal over the Ryder Cup. There was always a discernible passion for the match but currently it is harder to detect.
Come Ryder Cup week I'm sure we won't be doubting Europe's desire, but right now it feels as though that greater enthusiasm has transferred to the States, especially when the likes of Johnson and Watson tell us that qualifying to play for their country was their top objective at the final major of the year - and Woods makes it clear he wants to be a captain's pick.