For the next month, golf can forget about the individualistic major performances, world rankings and the FedEx Cup. The Ryder Cup is officially back and we will see golf replace the seemingly incompatible nature of the individual sport with one of team cohesion. There will of course be individual brilliance, think Ian Poulter roaring in 2012, or Graeme McDowell on the 18th at Celtic Manor in 2010; but it will pit the Europeans against the Americans in a sheer joy of team spirit. The roars of ‘U-S-A’ will be heard again alongside the vibrant blue of the Europeans. At the end we will see men who are opponents for almost two years embrace in either defeat or jumping in the nearest lake with victory.
You could argue the road to the Ryder Cup began last weekend. The thrill of qualification reached its pinnacle as Stephen Gallacher came agonisingly close to the top-2 finish he required at the Italian Open to automatically qualify for the team. Gallacher finished one shot behind David Howell, as both players shot an impressive scores of 65 and 63 respectively and confirmed Graeme McDowell’s sport. But it is today when we find out who will be joining the already qualified 9 men in European team to make up the 12 man squad.
Team captain Paul McGinley has been a clinically logical captain and he has said his team selection will reflect that. In the face of widespread calls to include Gallacher in the team as one of his three wildcard picks by players such as Mcilroy and Kaymer, McGinley has continued his rational approach to the decision-making. He said in Turin, “there is a lot of emotion here at the moment and we have to put a bit of cold water on that. There are a lot of stats to be looked at and a lot of players to be looked at. There is still golf going on in America which will be influential in terms of the picks as well. So in the cold light of day I will sit down with Des and Sam and assess everything.”
This is what he has done; yesterday he sat down with vice-captains Sam Torrance and Sam Smyth in Surrey to go through a list of five shortlisted players to be narrowed done to the final three. The likelihood is that this list contained the English trio of Westwood, Donald and Poulter as well as Gallacher and one other potential outsider. As McGinley said, he is looking for what is “best for Europe” and so he will want to pick players who will plainly and simply win points. The previous points haul by Poulter as well as his drive in the Ryder Cup, which often leaves commentators wondering how he has never won a major, will seem him as a guaranteed pick. On top of this, the second wildcard will be Westwood.
Despite the wide held belief he has collapsed from his heady days fighting majors from 2009 to 2012, Westwood has had a tidy year, especially the latter half. A flawless 63 in the last round of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational was an encouraging response to McGinley’s call for Westwood to show Ryder Cup form. He also played decently at the USPGA, finishing 15th after leading the first round. With this all in mind, as well as experience and a personality to match, expect Westwood to join Poulter on the team sheet.
This leaves Gallacher against Donald for the final space, plus the unknown outsider. This also seems a sound and simple decision to make. Unlike Westwood, Donald has fallen hard since becoming the World Number 1, finishing outside the Top-35 nine times this season. In direct contrast, Gallacher not only showed great resolve in Italy, but he has had eight Top-10 finishes this year on top of defending the Dubai Desert Classic.
But the experience of Donald who has played in 4 Ryder Cups and won them all could still tip the balance, in addition to him being one of the most outspoken supporters of McGinley’s run for captaincy. Either way, we will find out very shortly and there still may be some tears and tantrums to come if that mysterious man trumps all and gets the nod.