x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Mickelson promises he will lead from the front

The stage is set for Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington to display their credentials as inspirational figures.

Padraig Harrington practises at Valhalla this week.
Padraig Harrington practises at Valhalla this week.

Tiger Woods and Colin Montgomerie have come to be regarded as the team leaders in Ryder Cup battles over the last decade, carrying out the orders of a succession of captains they have served under. Montgomerie, winner of Europe's Order of Merit seven times in succession and once more three years ago, has done the job much better than Woods, the world's leading individual performer by a wide margin but embarrassingly lacking the cutting edge required of a team player.

The 37th clash between the transatlantic rivals which begins in Valhalla tomorrow will be missing both key men - one recovering from knee surgery, the other recovering from the heartbreak of being discarded following a dip in form. So the stage is set for Phil Mickelson, the world No 2 behind Woods, and Padraig Harrington, the hottest player in the world at the moment, to display their credentials as inspirational figures.

Both have indicated after practice rounds in Kentucky that they are relishing their roles in the spotlight and both are keen to help their respective captains Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo bring the best out of their 11 teammates. Mickelson, who has played in each of the last six Ryder Cups but has been on the winning side only once in the acrimonious Battle of Brookline in 1999, sought to turn the lack of experience in the American line-up to his team's advantage.

He maintained that the six US newcomers to this biennial confrontation would be free of the scars of having to suffer a sustained period of European dominance. "The guys who have never played have never lost," was his quaint way of pursuing that line of reasoning. "Not being a part of the last few US teams is not necessarily a bad thing," he added, rebuffing suggestions that the rookies might buckle if the pressure becomes intense during Sunday's decisive singles programme.

Harrington, the highest ranked European player in the world rankings at No 4 after back-to-back major triumphs in the British Open and US PGA championships, takes the contrasting view that the knowledge of what it takes to capture golf's most sought-after matchplay trophy will again work in favour of his team. The Dubliner has learned much from watching "Field Marshal Montgomerie" go to war against the arch enemy and knows it is now his turn to formulate battle plans.

"Nick [Faldo] has put greater emphasis on me, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia and I expected that," said Harrington, who disclosed that he has held close discussions with his captain about the possible pairings for foursomes and fourballs - a strategy which Faldo mischievously kept under wraps by sending out his men in threesomes for early practice rounds. "I would certainly expect to play with Graeme [McDowell] in one of the first four matches, probably fourballs rather than foursomes," said Harrington.

"In foursomes I prefer to play with someone more erratic. I enjoyed playing with Henrik Stenson at the K Club [two years ago] even though we didn't win. "I could play with someone like Paul Casey in the foursomes, he plays similar enough to me, misses a few greens, so I won't feel bad when I miss some. It would look a good partnership and leaves lots of options elsewhere." Mickelson, who is anxious to improve on a miserable personal record of nine wins, 12 defeats and four halves from his past encounters with the Europeans, suggested that he has not been used as a confidant by Azinger in the same way that Faldo has relied upon Harrington.

But the leading American appreciates it is time for him to set the right example to those around him. "The leadership has really come from our captain," he declared. "He has been tremendous in giving us direction. He has done a great job so far of letting everybody know what to expect. "But we know there have to be leaders out on the course as well, if we are going win back the cup. And I know I am going to have to be one of them."