Eight-time order of merit winner Colin Montgomerie on Friday defended the European Tour as a pressure cooker environment that produces true champions, refuting comments made by American Paul Azinger last weekend that were dismissive of the strength of that tour.
Azinger, who captained the United States to their first Ryder Cup victory in nine years at Valhalla in 2008 and was the winner of the 1993 PGA Championship, was commenting on Englishman Tommy Fleetwood being in contention in the Honda Classic.
He said on the official NBC broadcast: “A lot of pressure here. You’re trying to prove to everybody that you’ve got what it takes. These guys know, you can win all you want on that European Tour or in the international game and all that, but you have to win on the PGA Tour.”
“Paul has made a couple of faux pas recently – he also said that Edoardo Molinari’s best victory was at Bay Hill but he had just won the Open Championship. I know that’s not an American event but how silly is that? And now he’s said similar things about Tommy Fleetwood.
“Obviously Paul is paid to say how good the PGA Tour is and there’s no doubt it is the strongest tour. But you have to respect Tommy Fleetwood’s achievements – he’s won two HSBC events in Abu Dhabi and the French Open and all of those had higher world ranking points at stake than the Honda Classic.
“So you have to be careful in criticising the European Tour. The fields are stronger now and the guys who have won on the European Tour can really play,” Montgomerie told The Citizen at a baking Fancourt on Friday, where he is the guest of honour at the BMW Golf Cup International World Final.
Colin Montgomerie’s Top 3 South African courses
Gary Player Country Club, Sun City – When considering your favourite courses, you always look at the ones you won on and it will always be dear to me winning the Nedbank Million Dollar in 1996, beating Ernie Els in a playoff. My father was with me and he said we should leave for Johannesburg airport as soon as possible because beating Ernie made me the most hated man in the country! But it’s a great place, the tournament has lost something by going to a full field, but it has gained in other ways.
Fancourt – The Links is as good as any layout anywhere and it has really matured now. It’s amazing how the vegetation has grown around it, bringing its own environment with it. I actually think this is a golf course that is good for the environment.
Durban Country Club – A very interesting course, shorter than most but very difficult. There are lots of doglegs and you’ve really got to feel your way around. It’s a marvellous test and all in the shadow of the new stadium built for the 2010 Football World Cup semi-finals.
While the Honda Classic was only worth 261 ranking points, Fleetwood’s two Abu Dhabi triumphs were worth 330 and 351 points, while the French Open’s value was 270 points.
Europe have won eight of the last 11 Ryder Cups and in the last decade 14 majors have been won by players from that tour.
Montgomerie now plays mostly in the United States as a member of the Champions Tour for over-50s and is thoroughly enjoying his new surroundings.
“The Champions Tour is a lot more fun, more relaxed away from the course but it’s amazing how competitive everybody still is. We all still want to beat each other. There’s a small problem though – two awful South Africans in Retief Goosen and Ernie Els have now joined the tour. I wish they were younger because it makes it much tougher to win now!” the 56-year-old Montgomerie laughed.
The Scotsman has travelled to South Africa with some precious cargo – the actual Ryder Cup is with him and Montgomerie said the security at airports keep spotting the famous trophy.
“I’ve brought the Ryder Cup with me and I’ve taken it to Afghanistan, Australia, it’s been everywhere. It’s fabulous to travel with it, but I’m the last person you want to get behind in the security queue because after they’ve realised what it is they all want photos of it,” Montgomerie said.
Australian Anthony Struik took home the honours in the BMW Golf Cup International World Final Men’s 1st Division with 100 points, four more than South African Jannie van Breda, who hails from Boschenmeer Golf Estate in Paarl.
Another South African, Mohamed Suliman, was also runner-up in the Men’s 2nd Division.
But he gave eventual winner Neil Cronin of the United Kingdom an almighty scare, catching up with him on 104 points before eventually having to settle for second on a count-out.
Taiwan’s Ying Ying Chung was a two-point winner of the Ladies tournament.
The team competition came down to a thrilling conclusion with South Africa, for whom Barbs Cochrane of Cotswold Downs finished seventh in the Ladies division, scorching to 98 points in Friday’s final round.
That meant they caught up with Taiwan, who only scored 86 points on Friday, but the Asian island nation were crowned champions on count-out, with howls of dismay coming from the spirited South African team when they received the bad news in the Fancourt Clubhouse.