Smiling assassin Monty lands early verbal blows

By Mitch Phillips

NEWPORT, Wales (Reuters) - European captain Colin Montgomerie landed his first verbal jabs on opposite number Corey Pavin on Thursday as Ryder Cup excitement reached fever pitch following the announcement of the fourball pairings.

Two years ago European skipper Nick Faldo set an unfortunate tone with a toe-curling speech full of bad jokes and "misrememberings" but Montgomerie buried that ghost with a statesmanlike performance at the opening ceremony.

Pavin, unfortunately, managed to miss out former British Open champion Stewart Cink when introducing his players and though he made light of the gaffe with a laughing apology, Montgomerie was not about to pass up an opportunity.

Asked if Europe were "already one up" because of it, the Scot spent almost five minutes sympathizing, explaining the complexities of the autocue -- which he did not use -- and saying he thought Pavin had recovered well.

He then concluded with a smile that Europe were indeed one up.

Montgomerie maintained his iron fist in a velvet glove approach when dissecting the pairings.

He commented on the quality available to Pavin before talking of his surprise at a line-up that featured world number one Tiger Woods in the third group with Steve Stricker against Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.

"I was expecting Tiger to be first or fourth. I think Tiger hidden is a different move," said Montgomerie.

Asked why it had happened, the Scot replied: "I don't know, I don't know whether Tiger asked for that but obviously it was a decision made between Corey and Tiger.

"Ian Poulter is already anxious to get going, he can't wait."

On a roll, Montgomerie said he was also surprised Pavin had opted to send out rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton in the final group.

"I can honestly say Luke and Padraig were not expecting that last game, which is an important game," said Europe's captain.

"I did not expect Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington to be playing two rookies in the last match," he said, every syllable stressing the fact that he and his experienced duo could not believe their luck.

Montgomerie said European number one Lee Westwood had asked to go out first and that the Englishman, who partners Martin Kaymer against Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, deserved the honor of hitting Europe's first shot and could handle the pressure.

"I've been in the first group a few times and it's daunting," Montgomerie said, adding the atmosphere around the first tee on Friday morning would be "indescribable."

Pavin, who said at the start of the week he was determined to enjoy the experience, seemed to be continuing in that mode and laughed off his on-stage blunder.

"I only forgot one player, it could have been two," he said.

Pressed to explain his combinations and the absence of in-form Jim Furyk, he said: "Both of these teams are so good and so deep that you can just pull two names out of a hat for each side and you're going to have a great match.

"I didn't do that but I do like the pairings."

Pavin brushed aside queries about playing Woods in the third group but did explain his thinking about the final combination of Watson and Overton.

"They are so excited to get out there I felt that if I waited they would probably go crazy," he said.

"But I wanted them to go off last because I wanted them to see and experience some things that were happening in the first few matches."

(Editing by Tony Jimenez. To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)