x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rocca not ready to fall to knees again

Costantino Rocca believes Tiger Woods's absence from the Ryder Cup will aid Europe in their Ryder Cup defence.

Tom Watson, the defending champion of the Senior British Open, in action at Troon.
Tom Watson, the defending champion of the Senior British Open, in action at Troon.

TROON // It is the image by which Costantino Rocca will be forever remembered by a sport dripping with countless memories. The Italian player, fighting to earn a play-off with John Daly at the 1995 Open championship at St Andrews, dropped to his knees, shook his putter and pumped his fists against the ground after canning a 60-foot putt from the "Valley of Sin" at the final hole.

Rocca, 51, failed to overcome Daly for the Claret Jug, but that moment remains vivid more than a decade later. Rocca is on another Scottish course, Royal Troon, this week. He cuts the same excitable, and stocky figure that he did in his smiling days of the 1990s, when he participated in three Ryder Cups. While his putt at St Andrews is his trademark moment, Rocca's duels with the aspiring Tiger Woods were also memorable.

He partnered a young Woods in the final round of the 1997 US Masters, and finished fifth as Woods won his first major at the age of 21. He also defeated Woods 4&2 in the singles in the Ryder Cup at Valderrama months after that Masters win. Woods's success at the US Open last month leaves him only four short of Jack Nicklaus's haul of 18 majors victories: although it came at a cost, with a knee injury forcing him to miss the rest of the year.

After an opening 73 at Troon yesterday, Rocca confessed that he did not understand why Woods decided to play in the US Open. "If Tiger plays he is the best in the world, and even when he doesn't play he is the best in the world," he said. "But I don't understand why he played the US Open when his knee was not in good shape. "He probably thought it was in good condition, but it is very difficult when you are putting the amount of pressure on it that he is, and trying to hit the ball hard."

Woods does not have an enviable record in the Ryder Cup, being part of a solitary US win over Europe in 1999 in his five appearances. But Rocca thinks the US will be damaged by the absence of Woods at Valhalla in September. "He is putting his body under so much pressure. I would just like to wish him good luck," he said. "As far as the Ryder Cup goes, it is one point lost for the Americans and it is better for us that he is not there."

Colin Montgomerie could also miss the Ryder Cup, as the Scottish player toils for form and an automatic place in Nick Faldo's side. Rocca was Montgomerie's teammate in the 1993 loss to the States, as well as the European wins in 1995 and 1997. Despite being one of the most successful players in the competition's history, Rocca felt Montgomerie has to improve to merit a wildcard. "He's a great player for the team, but if you are not playing really good then why would you go?," he said.

"If Monty is playing good in the next few weeks, then why not? But he must be playing well to be in the team." And although Rocca is fondly rememberd for his 1995 near-miss, he does not well on it. "It's a nice memory, but it is better to forget it and try to make a good score now," he added. With rain tipped to darken a sunny Troon, one can only hope Rocca is not brought to his knees again this weekend.

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