Ryder Cup Captains Face Wild-Card Dilemma

By: | Tue 28 Aug 2018 | Comments


WHO would want to be in the shoes of Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn when they have to finalise their teams for the much-anticipatated Ryder Cup clash between Europe and the United States, to take place at Le Golf National near Paris at the end of September?

Furyk already knows the identity of eight of his team - Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson - and still has to name his four wild cards.

Bjorn’s eight automatic picks will be known at the conclusion of the Made in Denmark on Sunday, and he has some serious headaches. As things stand, his eight qualifiers are going to be Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Alex Noren and Thorbjorn Olesen. Of those, the only one who can still be overtaken is Olesen, and that will only happen if he has a poor tournament in Denmark and Matthew Fitzpatrick wins. It is also just about mathematically possible that Eddie Pepperell could squeeze in to eighth place.

So what’s the problem? Ian Poulter and Paul Casey will be playing in America in the Dell Technologies, the second event in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and if either of them win it will make no difference to their positions because the powers-that-be have decided that the qualification process comes to an end when the final putt is holed in Denmark. Casey and Poulter will, therefore, both need to depend on Bjorn giving them wild cards. Poulter is a certainty to be chosen, but Casey may miss out. Why? Sergio Garcia missed the cut in all four majors in 2018 and has had a pretty miserable time of it, which means that he, too, needs a wild card. And so does Henrik Stenson. So that means Bjorn names Casey, Poulter, Stenson and Garcia as his picks, right?



What happens if, as is possible, Fitzpatrick, wins in Denmark? Does Bjorn then ignore the claims of Olesen, who has played some magnificent golf this year? And what of Rafa Cabrera Bello, the Spaniard who is one of the most consistent players in Europe? And Thomas Pieters? You will recall that Darren Clarke chose Pieters two years ago after the Belgian finished the qualification process in superb form during the final two counting events in Prague and Denmark. Pieters rewarded Clarke’s faith by scoring four points, a record return for a rookie.

The giant Belgian has not been at his best this year, but he finished sixth at the US PGA Championship and continued his good form at the Czech Masters. So all of a sudden, Bjorn has to choose four from Poulter, Casey, Stenson, Garcia, Pieters and Cabrera Bello, all of whom have legitimate claims for selection. On the face of it, Garcia would seem to be the most vulnerable of the six, but he has vast Ryder Cup experience and, time and time again, has produced his very best form in these matches. Can Bjorn really afford to leave out a man who produced one of his best performances of the season at the French Open, played at Le Golf National?



Remember, too, that Rahm, Fleetwood, Hatton, Noren and Olesen are all rookies. Yes, Rahm is one of the best young golfers in the world; yes Fleetwood won the 2017 Race to Dubai and came within a whisker of winning the US Open; yes Hatton is one of the most ferocious competitors on the European Tour; yes Noren has won some of the European Tour’s biggest titles; and yes Olesen has proved that he deserves his place in the team. But nobody knows how these players will react when the match starts and the pressure is really on. Before he played in it, McIlroy described the Ryder Cup as an exhibition match - ask him what he thinks now.

And Furyk has problems of his own too. Bryson DeChambeau, who narrowly missed out on automatic selection, surely clinched his place with the manner of his victory at The Northern Trust. So who gets the other three wild cards? All logic dictates that two of them will go to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Woods almost won The Open and thrilled a huge crowd with a stunning final round of 64 to finish second at the US PGA Championship. His comeback has exceeded all expectations and his selection is surely a no-brainer. There are those who will point to Woods and say that he is not a team player. That was then. This is now. Woods is a changed man, a 42-year-old who knows how lucky he is to be playing at the highest level again after all his injury and personal problems. He hasn’t managed to win a tournament this year although he has done everything but. There will be uproar if Furyk does not pick Woods.



Mickelson is a different kettle of fish. The 48-year-old showed some fantastic early-season form, culminating in his victory in the WGC-Mexico Championship. It took him back into the top 20 in the world rankings, and it looked like he was back to his best. Since then, however, he has struggled, with not a single top-10 finish since that victory in April. He remains as wild as ever from the tee, and Le Golf National is a course that demands accuracy on account of its thick rough and abundance of water. You certainly wouldn’t want Lefty as a foursomes partner. However, Mickelson does have a lot of influence, and it may well be that Furyk feels that he has to choose him. Bjorn will not be too unhappy if he does.

Brandt Snedeker has put himself back into the mix by returning to the winners’ circle and finally putting a series of injury woes behind him. Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson also both missed out on automatic selection and could make good cases for wild cards. And what about Xander Schaufelle? Or Tony Finau, who finished in the top 10 in all four majors, is still in good form but has yet to taste victory.

So if we assume DeChambeau and Woods are nailed-on certainties, Furyk as to choose two from Mickelson, Snedeker, Kuchar, Johnson, Schaufelle and Finau. Good luck with that.


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