By Brian Keogh in California
Ryder Cup veteran Colin Montgomerie is convinced that Rory McIlroy’s youthful enthusiasm and golfing fearlessness would be a huge asset to Europe’s bid to win a fourth successive Ryder Cup at Valhalla in Kentucky next September.
The 44-year-old Scot sees no reason why the talented Holywood star can’t become the youngest player in the history of the matches - smashing Sergio Garcia’s record of 19 years, 8 months and 15 days with four months to spare.
Nothwithstanding McIlroy’s disappointing 11-over par 83 in the first round of the South African Airways Open yesterday, Montgomerie believes that McIlroy has all the qualities that made Garcia a talismanic figure for Europe in that controversial defeat at Brookline in 1999.
Speaking before the first round of the Target World Challenge in California, where he was propping up the 16-man field after lurching to the to the turn in five-over par, eight-times capped Montgomerie said: “He's made a fantastic start to his professional life and no doubt could make our Ryder Cup team in 2008, and he's remarkable. In his rookie year he doesn't seem to fear anything, which is great.
“I don't think the pressure is going to affect him. There are a few guys that I don't think would be affected by it and he is one of them.
“Garcia was a similar type of player for us at Brookline - someone who will bash his putts in and someone who was right up for it.
“Like Rory, Sergio was very passionate about the game and what he was doing and it was great for our team in 99, especially in the team format of it.”
He added: “To have someone like a Garcia or a Rory that doesn't really understand where you are or what it is about and goes out and wins his match, is fantastic. And at Valhalla early on, there will be pressure.
“It is a fearless situation. And every round of golf he plays is a fearless situation. He just gives it a rip.
“How many times have you played a hole. where the the second time you play it knowing that there is out of bounds on the right, you play the hole very differently. Well he doesn't know there is out of bounds anywhere, the second or third time he plays the hole.
“It can only be of benefit. I am not saying that the whole team should be as young as Rory but the odd one like that would be great.”
Currently ranked 24th in the European Ryder Cup points list, McIlroy would be 19 years, 4 months and 15 days old on the first day of the matches in Kentucky while Montgomerie would win his ninth cap at 45.
Languishing at 41st in the European Points list after a slow start to his campaign, the Scot says he has patched up his differences with skipper Nick Faldo after being criticised for being “difficult” during the Seve Trophy at The Heritage in September.
“I've spoken to Nick and it's fine. It doesn't concern me. Nick is his own man. He's a very, very individual man,” he said.
He conceded that his place in the side is far from guaranteed, adding: “It's just one of these things if it doesn't happen. I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. I'd just make sure I qualified in 2010. Simple as that really.
"I'm nowhere near it now because I made a particularly poor start to the qualifying situation but I know if I play well in 2008 I'll qualify.”
Tiger Woods led the Target World Challenge by two shot from Jim Furyk on four under par through 10 holes with Padraig Harrington battling back to level par after a slow start with birdies at the 10th and 11th.