Harrington eager to prove his worth at Ryder Cup

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NEWPORT, WALES (AP) - Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin went all out trying to give their Ryder Cup teams that little extra push, an inspirational nudge that might make the difference between winning and losing at Celtic Manor.

At least one guy, however, didn’t need any more motivation.

Since being named to the European team as a captain’s pick, Padraig Harrington has endured the grumbling from those who thought a guy with three major titles wasn’t deserving of his spot _ certainly not ahead of Paul Casey and Justin Rose.

Harrington’s critics point out he hasn’t won a tournament in two years or a Ryder Cup match since 2004. Surely Montgomerie would have been better off picking Casey, ranked No. 7 in the world, or Rose, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this summer.

Don’t try telling that to Monty, and don’t expect any apologies from Harrington.

“Defend myself? Yes. Apologize?” the Irishman said. “Yes.”

Montgomerie pointed to Harrington’s experience as one of the main factors he was seeking, especially on a team with six Ryder Cup rookies. No one else has a resume that includes two British Open titles and a PGA Championship.

“There’s no doubt Paul Casey and Justin Rose are good enough to be on our Ryder Cup team,” Harrington said. “It really just comes down to personal preference, the team captain, how he sees it. Thankfully, maybe with the balance of the team _ the six rookies and with the age profile of the team _ it certainly swung in my favor.”

Now he’s facing a burden unlike anything else in his career.

If the favored Europeans should lose on their home turf for the first time since 1993, the blame will likely fall squarely on Montgomerie for picking Harrington.

“It obviously puts you under a little bit more focus during the week, and brings certain expectations and certain pressure,” Harrington said. “So it’s certainly different. It definitely makes you more enthusiastic and keen to play your part and do everything you can among the team.”

Monty has no regrets.

“I know what Padraig Harrington can do, and that’s why he was picked,” Montgomerie said. “He’s a world player, he’s won three major championships, and the stature of the guy is second to none within our team.”

Besides, neither captain can juggle his lineup at this point.

What they can do is come up with something that might fire up their guys even more, such as Ben Crenshaw’s inspiring speech to the Americans the night before the historic comeback at Brookline.

Pavin famously wore a camouflage cap while playing at Kiawah in 1991 to show support for troops in the first Gulf War. He turned to Maj. Dan Rooney, a decorated F-16 fighter pilot who also happens to be a PGA of America golf professional, to speak to his team.

“It wasn’t so much a motivational speech,” Pavin said, “but maybe a little more awareness of what’s happening around the world and what’s going on and how, in a military sense, how team unity and accountability to each other is very important.”

Bubba Watson, whose father served in Vietnam, was especially moved by Rooney’s speech.

“We all want to win, but at the same time, we are representing our country,” Watson said. “He just talked about … the Stars and Stripes and what a big honor it is to put that on and how we should be thankful for what we do.”

Not to be outdone, Montgomerie placed a call to former European star Seve Ballesteros, who is battling brain cancer.

“That was very motivational, very passionate, and also very sad to hear him, to hear the way he is,” Monty said. “But still, the passion is very, very strong within Seve for us as a team, and he just wishes that he could be here.”

Ballesteros was diagnosed with a brain tumor nearly two years ago. He had hoped to be at St. Andrews in July for the British Open, but his doctors advised him against making the trip.

The Ryder Cup was ruled out as well, but Ballesteros did manage to spend about 10 minutes with the Europeans via a speakerphone set up in the team room.

“That was a real inspiration, especially for the rookies in the team, to speak to Seve, and Seve speak to them,” said Montgomerie, who played in three Ryder Cups with Ballesteros and on the 1997 team in which the Spaniard served as captain. “I’ve never had anyone as passionate about sport and golf as him.”

Ballesteros is credited with launching a new Ryder Cup era in 1979, when the European roster was expanded to include players from the continent as well as Britain. Ballesteros went on to become an eight-time member of Europe’s team, breaking a decades grip Americans held on the event.

In 1997, he took over as captain and guided the Europeans to a rousing upset of the Americans at the first Ryder Cup held in Spain.

“I think it was only right to get Seve on the phone,” Montgomerie said. “Seve is our Ryder Cup and always will be. It’s always nice to not ever feel that Seve is forgotten by us or by European golf in any way, shape or form.”

Come Friday morning, though, it will all be up to the players.

That’s when the Europeans will count on Harrington to show he was a worthy pick. He won’t be able to blame the added pressure of playing at home, which clearly affected Harrington at Ireland’s K Club in 2006, or say he’s burned out by the demands of winning two straight majors, which was the state of his game heading into Valhalla in 2008.

Based on the way he’s been practicing, Montgomerie is expecting big things from his most disputed selection.

“He walked into the Celtic Manor as if he was a rookie,” the captain said. “Judge me about that selection on October the 4th.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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