Home Field Advantage

September 29, 2010

Celtic Manor could be Europe's biggest weapon this week.

NEWPORT, Wales -- Welsh icon Tom Jones had a big hit in 1966 singing his version of "Green, Green Grass Of Home."

European captain Colin Montgomerie

will be kind to his team in the 38th Ryder Cup matches. The rough is up (and thick) and the green speeds are down, so if vocal, partisan galleries aren't enough to put Monty's men at ease, the setup should provide a notable assist.

"[It is] to our advantage if it is a European Tour setup," Montgomerie said. "I was hardly going to set it up to be a U.S. tour setup. It is a very fair test of golf, and something our European Tour players will be used to is the pace of the greens. The rough is graded very fairly. A good shot will be rewarded, and a bad shot will be penalized. I think it's not too tough, and yet it's tough enough. I've left the course to allow the best team to win here this week."

While Montgomerie's counterpart, American captain Corey Pavin, has praised how the course is groomed, there also is no doubt that the Twenty Ten resembles some previous European sites for the way they could neutralize a long-hitting U.S. side. The nature of Celtic Manor also explains why Montgomerie selected straight-hitting Luke Donald as one of his captain's picks.

"They did everything they could at [frequent host] The Belfry to neutralize our strengths, which inevitably was power," said Paul Azinger. "And the greens -- they slowed the greens down to an intolerable pace. The killer was Sam Torrance in 2002 -- he had the fairways cut in so that about 285 yards or so the fairways were about 15 feet wide. Basically the fairway ended. Our bombers had to hit 3-woods and long irons, then everybody was hitting the second shot from the same spot. Our power was neutralized."

While as U.S. captain in 2008 Azinger made sure Valhalla GC was hospitable for long hitter J.B. Holmes, this week Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson aren't going to be having such friendly vibes on the tee. Watson's driver isn't going to get much use. "On this course you have to lay back a lot," Watson said. "You can try to bomb it in the 10-yard-wide fairway, but for the most part it's about hitting fariways , and we're going to hit mid- and long irons into the par 3s and par 4s."

Said Johnson: "There are bunkers that are well placed, and you kind of navigate your way around the bunkers. The rough is very deep. If you miss the fairways, unless you've got a really good lie, you're not going to be able to knock it on the green."

Once on the putting surfaces, the experience at Twenty Ten will recall many Ryder Cups held in Europe. Augusta National or Oakmont, they are not. "They are a little bit slow, and I'm sure they will probably get even slower with the wet weather coming in," Tiger Woods said.

Along with the fact that the moist conditions in the Usk Valley will allow players to aggressively target hole locations on approach shots, if they can figure out the pace of the greens, they can be bold. "You think aggressive at the Ryder Cup," contends Jim Furyk, "about making birdies, charging. And you set up the greens where you can be aggressive and not worry about knocking it five, six feet by all the time. Maybe the setup is more that way to promote aggressive play."

The soft conditions will effect things another way, too. Europe's Lee Westwood, returning to action after a hiatus because of a calf injury, won't be the only player who might notice the rigors of multiple journeys around the Twenty Ten layout.

"It's a very difficult golf course to come back to," Westwood said. "It's very heavy underfoot, and it's quite hilly in places, and there's quite a lot of slopes, steep slopes to walk up. There's a few more miles in my legs, and maybe the best way to get the maximum out of me is to play me in four [matches instead of five], or whatever Monty sees fit."