Who Will Qualify For The Ryder Cup
THOMAS BJORN'S European team produced a thrilling display to win the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in 2018. The star of the show was Francesco Molinari, who returned a maximum points haul of five, closely followed by Tommy Fleetwood, who achieved four points out of five.
And as Padraig Harrington looks forward to taking on the USA at Whistling Straits later this year, he will surely know that his team is going to look very different.
The 12 men who made up Bjorn's victorious team were Molinari, Fleetwood, Justin Rose (ranked no1 in the world at the time), Tyrrell Hatton, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Alex Norén, Thorbjørn Olesen and captain's picks Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson.
How many of those players are likely to be donning Europe's colours later this year? Hatton, Rahm, McIlroy, Fleetwood, Casey and Garcia are all likely starters, and Lee Westwood, having missed out in France, seems certain to return for what will be his 11th appearance at the age of 48.
I believe that leaves five places up for grabs because I don't think that any of Molinari, Rose, Stenson, Poulter and Noren will make it. And Olesen doesn't even feature in the conversation.
Molinari has endured a miserable time with injuries and has failed to rediscover the form that won him The Open. Rose has tumbled down the world rankings and has battled with both his golf swing and injury. Time, it seems, may have caught up with Stenson and Poulter. Noren has also lost form, while Olesen will be more concerned with events in a courtroom than anything that is happening in Wisconsin this autumn.
Matt Fitzpatrick, who played in 2016 but missed out two years later, will surely be back in the team. And the good news is that he is playing plenty of golf in the USA and beginning to look right at home.
But there are going to be several rookies in Harrington's team.
Viktor Hovland, who has already won twice on the PGA Tour, is a shoo-in and will be a huge asset. He has a wonderful temperament and few weaknesses.
Victor Perez is a proven winner who has developed a healthy habit of performing well at the European Tour’s flagship events. He is also incredibly laidback.
Robert McIntyre has now tasted victory and climbed into the top 50 in the world rankings, opening all sorts of doors for the Scottish left-hander.
Matt Wallace continues to flatter to deceive. That he possesses the talent is beyond dispute. But his temperament is deeply suspect. And he needs to get a wiggle on if he is to make it. On the plus side, you suspect that the Ryder Cup would bring out the best in him.
I have been hugely impressed by young Rasmus Hojgaard, a player who is mature way beyond his years and who is surely destined for the very top of the game.
And what of Open champion Shane Lowry? As things stand, he is unlikely to make the team and that is a mark of the potential strength of Harrington’s new look side. And that is without taking into account the claims of the likes of Andy Sullivan, Bernd Wiesberger, Aaron Rai and Danny Willett, or considering the fact that somebody is almost certain to come from nowhere.
This is how I expect the European team to look:
Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Jon Rham, Sergio Garcia, Matt Fitzpatrick, Viktor Hovland, Victor Perez, Robert MacIntyre and Shane Lowry.
And what of the US team. Last time it comprised Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau.
We can rule out Woods, Mickelson and Fowler for starters. Spieth has started to show signs of his best again but will probably need to win a couple of tournaments to force his way into the equation, and doubts remain over the fitness of Brook Koepka. Watson is also unlikely to make the team.
Johnson, Thomas, Reed, Simpson, DeChambeau and Finau look like certain starters. And if he is fit, they will surely be joined by Koepka.
So what about the other five? Collin Morikawa is the US PGA champion and will be a key member of the team. And he will surely be joined by Daniel Berger, a man reborn since the lockdown ended.
Matthew Wolff has struggled of late but will surely get back into his stride soon and is a man that US captain Steve Stricker will want in his team, especially after his outstanding performances in the majors last year. Xander Schauffele is another proven winner. Like Wolff, he has not been playing anywhere close to his best recently but it is surely only a matter of time before he turns things around. And Patrick Cantlay is another no-brainer. He is one of the most naturally gifted players on the PGA Tour, with a temperament to match.
Other contenders include the likes of Cameron Champ, Harris English, Kevin Na and Scottie Scheffler. And it is Scheffler I expect to make the breakthrough. He is still looking for his maiden tour victory but when he pick up his first win you sense that the flloodgates could open.
So this is how I reckon the US team will look, and it assumes Koepka is fit.
Johnson, Thomas, Reed, Simpson, DeChambeau, Finau, Koepka, Morikawa, Berger, Cantlay, Schauffele and Scheffler.
Do you agree with Derek's picks at this stage? Let us know what you think!
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