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Ryder Cup captains impressed with Celtic Manor

Not far from the first tee on the Twenty Ten course at Celtic Manor, across the gleaming new suspension bridge over the River Usk, stands the town of Caerleon, where legend has it King Arthur held court.

While myth and magic are very much in the air at the first Welsh venue to host the Ryder Cup—even the hotel bar is named after Merlin, Arthur’s magician—European captain Colin Montgomerie promises there will be no sleight of hand.

Montgomerie joined United States captain Corey Pavin for a nine-hole stroll around the course this week, a year before the two teams clash for real, and the Scot was keeping no secrets as he gave his guest the guided tour.

“I don’t think I’ll be playing too many tricks with the golf course,” Montgomerie told Reuters after the match, played in glorious weather. “The course will be laid out very similarly to how we played it today.

“There is a certain home course advantage to be had, but at the same time you can tie yourself in knots trying to set up courses to suit certain people. You come unstuck sometimes.

“I think just good golf will be the winner. At the end of the day, if you play better than your opponent, you’ll beat him.”

It comes as no surprise that Montgomerie makes plotting a route to Ryder Cup glory sound as simple as a walk in the sunshine.

The 46-year-old Scot has played eight Ryder Cups, tasting team success on five of those occasions and remaining unbeaten in singles matches along the way.

He has not yet given up hope of returning as a player and there is a glint in his eye as he talks of the inviting tee position on the par-five 18th that will see some players risk a dip in the water by trying to reach the green in two.

“I think it’s come out great,” he said of the layout. “There’s a lot of risk-reward holes and positions. We brought the tee slightly forward (on the 18th) to allow people to reach the tee in two shots, 540 yards as opposed to 580.

“I think it plays better as a two-shot hole than it does as a three-shot hole and there’s a huge risk-reward if the ball goes to the bank and rolls down or stays on the putting surface.”

Pavin is also enjoying the prospect of a good, clean fight on a course with few secrets but plenty of opportunities.

“The thing I like about it is that it’s all there in front of you,” the 49-year-old American told Reuters. “It’s not a tricked-up course by any means.

“The greens are fair—there’s nothing crazy about them but they do have some breaks and you have to do things pretty nicely to make birdies.

“If you go back a few more holes to 15, a reachable par four, there’s a lot of excitement on that hole. And if the matches do get to 18 guys are going to be able to reach that in two. So there’s big risk-reward there and there’s going to be some tremendous excitement on 18.”

A similar calculation of risk-reward must have been on the minds of the Ryder Cup committee when they awarded the hosting rights to Wales back in 2001.

It has taken an investment of 16 million pounds ($25.56 million), bankrolled by the Welsh billionaire Terry Matthews, to create the first purpose-built Ryder Cup course.

Around two million pounds has been spent on the bridge that will ease access for spectators and take players to a specially built practice area, while the course features nine new holes along the Usk valley, with the remainder remodelled from the old Wentwood Hills championship course.

The two captains played the new holes this week, with the light-hearted match, also featuring radio presenter Chris Evans and Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel, finishing all square.

The friendly tone was set early on as Pavin conceded a very missable two-metre putt to Montgomerie but back here in a year’s time the atmosphere will be rather different.

“Pick it up,” Pavin called out to his opponent on the second green. “It won’t be as friendly as this a year from now.”


October 15, 2009

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