Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Runners and Ryders

Right, there is just under a month left until the European team for the Ryder Cup is finalised. That leaves four tournaments either to get the points require to get in automatically or to stake a claim for a wild card by sufficiently impressing El Capitan Nick Faldo - The USPGA, the SAS Masters in Sweden, the KLM Open in the Netherlands and the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles. There are some big names that are struggling to make it this time around and it could end up being a very big call on Faldo's part as to who he should leave out. You can look at the current points standings here. Let’s take a look at who the likely lads to be fighting over the two available wild cards are.

Sergio Garcia - World Points table 6th, European Points table 24th.
Automatic Qualifying Chances - Very Good
Sergio is one of the players who at the start of qualifying everyone thought would qualify fairly easily on world points. It hasn't panned out that way as some guys with huge seasons on the European tour have outshone the guys over in America. Having played very little of his Golf in Europe this season, world points has turned out to be his only realistic chance of automatic Qualification. He is only a few points behind Robert Karlsson in the World table but he will have to be looking over his shoulder too as players like Ian Poulter and Justin Rose could play their way up there too. You have to back him to get a big result this week in the USPGA and make it, he loves the Ryder cup, has a ridiculous record in it and having won the Players Championship this year I think he'd be very unhappy if he required a wild card. You have to think though if he does need one, he'll definitely get it. His Ryder Cup record is insanely good.
Wild Card Prospects - A certainty should he need it

Ian Poulter- World Points table 7th, European Points table 11th.
Automatic Qualifying Chances – Possible.
Another to have played very little on the European tour and suffered for it. His second place finish in the Open has shot him right up there in the points tables however. It amused me no end when Harrington joked with him in his Open winning speech that now they knew where they'd be come September. In fact Poulter was still some way from automatic qualification, Padraig mustn't have realised how far back he was. Oops. Some good results in the closing tournaments now should see him get there through either table and you have to think his second place has given him a real boost in terms of Faldo's wild card thinking. Whether he would be happy playing in a European uniform rather than his self designed threads could be a factor though...
Wild Card Prospects - Open puts him up there but doubts may remain. Faldo knows he can be a shanker...

Justin Rose- World Points table 8th, European Points table 10th.
Automatic Qualifying Chances - Possible
In a very similar situation to Poulter, he could conceivably qualify through either table still and currently occupies the final berth from the European table but is still far from secure. You'd have to say he had his chances in a number of tournaments this year but has converted few into good results, including the Masters where he broke down horribly with a few childish tantrums to play himself out of it. There's no doubting his ability and if he qualifies then he'll be a great addition to the team but I can't see him getting a wild card in front of more experienced, more level headed players, or even Poulter who showed he can do it in a major, whereas Rose has unfortunately wilted, if you'll pardon the pun. Would need something big in the coming weeks to get a wild card but if he does that then he'll have already qualified anyhow!
Wild Card Prospects - Not as great as they should be, major flops and tantrums count against him despite high ranking.

Paul Casey - World Points table 16th, European Points table 15th.
Automatic Qualifying Chances - Very Unlikely
Paul Casey has had a poor year by his standards but a good 8th place finish in last week's Bridgestone invitational has put him right back up there. Automatic Qualification should still be beyond him, he'd need to get lucky with other guys playing poorly you'd imagine but he can play his way back into the wild card race with a good show of form. Anyone who has heard Faldo rambling on about Casey's muscular forearms know he's a player Faldo has a lot of time for, so if any surprise picks are to made I think Casey would be a decent outside bet. He still has an awful lot to do though.
Wild Card Prospects - Would be a controversial choice over perhaps more deserving people unless he does something big in the remaining weeks

Nick Dougherty - World Points table 18th, European Points table 13th.
Automatic Qualifying Chances - Very Unlikely
It's hard not to like Nick Dougherty, especially in the light of the recent death of his mother, something he has handled admirably. Despite not having the most eye-catching of seasons he is still in a creditable position in the tables and being only 26 is still one for the future, even if it does seem he has been around for donkey's years. The only concern I have is that he could be another Andrew Coltart if he is picked.

Remember that? When Mark James picked Andrew Coltart to blood him for future competitions despite others having better claims and then never playing him, Jarmo Sandelin or Jean Van de Velde until the singles? Disaster, though they still only lost by one point but still. Coltart never got a sniff of the Ryder Cup after that...

There are too many bigger players out there to justify giving Dougherty a pick and whilst I reckon he's a far better player than Coltart was, I think it would be a lot of pressure on his shoulders to pick him in front of someone like Monty, Poulter or Clarke and would create a lot of stink in the media no doubt. Dougherty is one of the first big talents to come from Faldo's academy system; he is very close to him and likes him a lot. Will he pick him on that basis? Would he open himself up to questions of favouritism and the controversy of not picking others? I t would be a huge distraction and may unsettle things. To my mind he should let him sit this one out; he will qualify for later ones I'm sure. Players should qualify at least once before they get a pick to my mind, it's only fair.
Wild Card Prospects - The best bet for a controversial pick but would have to play very well this month not to cause a real stir in the media.

Colin Montgomerie - World Points table 33rd, European Points table 16th.
Automatic Qualifying Chances - Can't see it happening at all...
How do you solve a problem like Monty...? It was always going to be the story as soon as Faldo was announced as Captain. Would Faldo pick Monty despite the feud which has played itself out in the media between the two? Faldo criticised Monty on a couple of occasions for never going to America and staying at home in the "comfort zone" of the European tour, mocking his collection of Order of merits as meaningless without a major. The problem for Monty is that on current form, Faldo would look more than justified in not choosing him. 15 over par in the Bridgestone Invitational is not a good omen for the Ryder Cup...

But then this is Monty we are talking about, the man who has exemplified what it means to be a great Ryder Cup player over the last decade. Would you reckon anyone would fancy taking him on if he was picked? No, neither do I. If I was Faldo I probably would pick him, just to stop any stories unsettling the camp and make life easier for everyone, he will get the job done if he plays. Expect an attempt to get him on board as a vice-captain, he might go for it, he's desperate to be captain some day.
Wild Card prospects - A strong case can be made for either possibility but it makes a lot of sense to me to take Monty with you unless Faldo wants to protect his points record! Prepare for controversy if he's left out

Darren Clarke - World Points table 20th, European Points table 23rd.
Automatic Qualifying Chances - Would need a minor miracle...
Poor Darren has had an uphill battle. Without the exemptions he received last year because of his wife Heather's passing, the reality of his low world ranking kicked in. He has yet to play in a major this season, making qualifying incredibly difficult. He did get his first win in a few years early in the season however, and had a very encouraging sixth place at the Bridgestone Invitational this weekend. Another boost is an invite to this week’s USPGA, finally giving him a chance at a major this season, and another good result would make him a strong candidate for the wild card. If anything else, he would be an excellent guy for Faldo to choose over Monty if he is on form, he can point to his experience and his great record with Westwood and Jimenez and it would be a harsh man who would argue he didn't deserve a break. There's no doubt he's still one of the most naturally gifted golfers out there, and if he keeps up the form of last weekend, where he was arguably the pick of the players, he may well be a pick of Faldo's.
Wild Card Prospects - Probably the only guy this low in the standings with a realistic chance.

The two picks should come from this list of people. That's assuming that Luke Donald is still unfit with his wrist injury and it sounded as though Faldo would require some convincing of his form even if he was fit. If one of the guys currently in the qualifying mix does drop out of it, I can't see the wild card going to them. It would be an indication that they are out of form, and the picks are there to get some of the big boys in, you're not going to choose Martin Kaymer or Oliver Wilson. Their names wouldn't exactly strike fear into the likes of Jim Furyk and Co. would they...

My money would be on Sergio if he needs it, but I doubt he will, then Poulter would be next, then Clarke or Casey who are both real birdie merchants, perfect for matchplay. Monty will need to play well if he is to get in. If Garcia is there, I personally would like to see Clarke and Poulter make it, not only are they two of my favourites to watch but they are big characters, well known and liked in America and thrive on the big occasion. Paul Casey isn't quite so popular after that "We properly hate the Americans" comment a few years back, might be best for his health if he waited ‘til its back on home soil, it does get rowdy...

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