Matt Wallace Victory Throws a Spanners in the Works for Bjorn
MATT WALLACE added to Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn’s already nigh-impossible job when the Englishman won the Made in Denmark, the final counting event for the 2018 team and his third European Tour victory of the season. The Englishman missed out on the eight automatic selections for Bjorn’s European team but but he has now surely staked an irresistible claim for one of the four wild cards on offer later this week. And if he does get the nod it means that at least one stalwart will miss out.
The failure of Matthew Fitzpatrick and Eddie Pepperell to win the tournament means that Thorbjorn Olesen, of Denmark, remains in eighth place in the qualifying table. So Bjorn knows that Open champion Francesco Molinari, former US Open champion Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, 2017 Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Alex Noren and Olesen can all look forward to facing the USA at Le Golf National near Paris from September 28-30. Bjorn will name the remaining four members of his team later this week. But who will get the nod? Wallace must now be a serious contender, but the likes of Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Russell Knox and Rafa Cabrera Bello will also be hoping for a phone call from the captain. He faces an unenviable task. Poulter and Casey are surely shoo-ins, but who else will be pick?
Wallace will be bitterly disappointed if he misses out. After all, you can’t do much more than win three times in one season. The thing going against him is that he would another rookie - of the eight men already heading to Paris, Hatton, Fleetwood, Rahm, Noren and Olesen have never played in the Ryder Cup.
The Englishman prevailed in a four-man play-off after birdies at five of his final six holes in a round of 67 to reach 19 under par alongside fellow Englishmen Steven Brown, Jonathan Thomson and Lee Westwood. Wallace then birdied the 18th twice more in the playoff to land his fourth European Tour win at Silkeborg Ry Golf Club.
Brown and Wallace both put their approaches inside six feet on the first playoff hole for a pair of birdies before Wallace went even closer on the next with Brown only able to make a par. Fitzpatrick carded an excellent closing 66 to get to 16 under and a tie for seventh but that was not enough to dislodge Olesen from the final qualifying spot.
Bjorn will name his four captain's picks on Wednesday and Wallace had been saying throughout the week that he wanted to put himself in the frame - he has certainly managed that. “I've stepped up to the mark and I've shown him exactly what I'm about,” he said. “If he doesn't pick me then that's absolutely ?ne but if he does, he knows he's going to get exactly that in his team,” Wallace said. “I set myself positions where I have to do things and, more often than not, I get it done. I'm very fortunate to have done it when I needed to in a few tournaments now.
“When my back's against the wall, I don't shy away from pushing myself off there and trying to get the job done and I kept saying to myself at the end there, 'you can make this, you have done everything to be able to make this putt', and I did it. Super happy.”
Johan Edfors is the only player to win three times in a Ryder Cup year and not make the team in 2006 and, after claiming his fourth win in 15 months and just 45 European Tour appearances, Indian Open and BMW International Open champion Wallace revealed it would mean “everything” to get a pick. One man who will be heading to France is Westwood, one of Bjorn’s vice-captains, who narrowly missed out on a 24th European Tour title, while for rookies Brown and Thomson, their performance will provide a major boost in their efforts to retain their playing privileges.
Westwood entered the day with a one-shot lead but was quickly joined at the top as playing partner Brown birdied from 15 feet on the first. There was a two–shot swing on the third as Westwood birdied from six feet and Brown dropped a shot, and the 45 year old pulled away from his rivals on the front nine as he got on the par five eighth in two and spun an approach to six feet on the ninth. Brown dropped another shot on the fourth but took advantage of the fifth and eighth, while Thompson sandwiched a bogey on the seventh with close-range gains on the fourth and ninth.
Wallace was even further back as he turned in level par but with Westwood's birdie on the 11th after coming out of the trees proving to be his last, the chasing pack closed in.
Thomson hit a terrific approach to the 10th and also capitalised on the par five 11th but he dropped a shot on the 12th before holing from 18 feet on the 14th. Brown and Wallace also birdied the 10th but while Brown followed it up with another on the 11th, Wallace dropped a shot on the 12th.
The 28 year old then went on an amazing run, holing a huge putt on the 13th, taking advantage of the par five 14th, holing from 18 feet on the 16th and hitting a stunning approach into the 17th.
A Westwood three-putt on the 13th meant his lead was down to one and when Thomson holed from 15 feet on the 16th, Brown put his tee-shot to tap-in range on the par-three 15th and Wallace put an approach to eight feet on the last, the stage was set for the dramatic finale. South Africa's Erik van Rooyen birdied three of his last four holes in a 65 to finish a shot out of the play-off and one ahead of local hero Lucas Bjerregaard, who delighted the home crowds with a chip-in eagle at the 12th in his 66.
Belgian Thomas Detry finished alongside Fitzpatrick, a shot ahead of Ashley Chesters and two clear of Sam Horsfield and Adrian Otaegui.
If Wallace misses out he will have every right to feel hard done by. He could hardly have done more than to win three times in 2018 - something nobody else on the European Tour has achieved this season. And he proved in the final stretch that he is made of the right stuff.
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