By Matthew Harris
WITH just two tournaments left for players on both teams to stake their place in the Ryder Cup, it’s going to a be a fascinating two weeks ahead of the competition, which takes place at Gleneagles at the end of September.
Some automatic slots have already been decided while some of the world’s best golfers will be left to rely on a captain’s pick to make it into the side but as Europe and America’s players prepare for the most crucial period of the season, how are the teams shaping up?
Europe are favourites with agencies such as Betfair to defend the trophy they won in such dramatic fashion in Medinah two years ago. But ahead of The Barclays tournament in New Jersey, only three players were guaranteed to finish in the top four automatic places.
It’s no surprise to see Rory McIlroy heading the European points table after winning two majors in 2014 while it’s been another consistent year for Henrik Stenson but the Frenchman Victor Dubuisson will be an unfamiliar name on both sides of the Atlantic. Victory in the Nordea Masters followed a disappointing US Masters for the 24 year old but a strong season includes a ninth place finish in the Open and a tie for seventh in the USPGA. Clearly Dubuisson is a man showing consistent form and he will be a welcome addition to Paul McGinley’s team.
The remaining place in the European table is between Sergio Garcia, Jamie Donaldson and Thomas Bjorn with the Spaniard holding a good advantage going into the Barclays. It’s been a solid campaign for Garcia who would almost certainly be guaranteed a captain’s pick if he were to miss out on the automatic places.
In the World Points table, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Jamie Donaldson and Thomas Bjorn are the players currently occupying the final qualifying places but no-one is safe going into the final two tournaments.
However, Luke Donald and Stephen Gallacher are the only ones with a realistic chance of breaking into the top nine and the remaining players such as Ian Poulter and Miguel Angel Jimenez may well need a victory in the Barclays or the Italian Open to avoid a nervous wait for McGinley’s picks.
So the European team is a mix of experience with McIlroy, Rose, Kaymer and Garcia set to continue their excellent form in this competition while Donaldson and Dubuission are the unknown quantities in this line up. As things stand, McGinley’s picks are likely to be Donald, Poulter and Lee Westwood who showed a welcome return to form in the USPGA.
If the US are to regain a trophy which they last won in 2008, they will have to do so without Tiger Woods who has been forced to withdraw following an injury hit season. Captain Tom Watson would have faced a tricky decision over Woods, who has struggled with form and fitness but the player has now taken that dilemma out of the skipper’s hands.
Dustin Johnson is another man to have taken a break from the game and that leaves Watson with a couple of rookies in terms of this competition. Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed will be unfamiliar to European fans but there are a number of Ryder Cup veterans who could upset the pundits’ predictions and take the trophy back to the United States for the first time in six years.
Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler are all set to travel to Gleneagles and after a strong 2014 for all of those men, perhaps the destination of the trophy isn’t the foregone conclusion that many are predicting.
* Matthew Harris is a freelance writer