Paul McGinley and Jose Maria Olazabal today became near-certainties to be part of the European team going for a record third successive Ryder Cup victory in less than three weeks’ time.
The Dubliner and the Spaniard left their fate in other people’s hands this weekend – McGinley by missing the halfway cut in the BMW International in Munich, Olazabal by controversially missing the event to go quail-hunting.
But the three players left with a chance of overtaking them in a points race are either out of the running now or way off the pace in Munich.
While Padraig Harrington and David Howell, two men certain of their places at the K Club, took over at the top with a flood of birdies – Harrington posted a superb 64 to set the target – Thomas Bjorn, Paul Broadhurst and Johan Edfors failed to follow suit.
Bjorn has to win, and after starting the day in 29th place he climbed to eighth, but then came a bogey and a double bogey for a 71 which dropped him back to 36th.
The Dane could still make it as a wild-card selection of captain Ian Woosnam, although Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood are the two favourites, but Broadhurst and Edfors accept they have no chance of such a call-up.
Broadhurst, winner of his only two games when he last played against the Americans in 1991, had a 67 for six under, but was only 27th and has to be third at worst.
“It looks like I might retire (from Ryder Cup) unbeaten,” he said, suggesting that only a closing 63 or better could earn him a second cap now.
Edfors, who has won three times this season, came into the week requiring a second-place finish, but a 72 killed off that hope. He was lying 56th and commented: “I lost my tempo – and then I lost my temper.”
He and Broadhurst have had to visit the European Tour qualifying school in recent years, so will see getting close to the Ryder Cup as a feat in itself.
Not so Bjorn, three times a runner-up in majors and twice on winning teams.
“If I miss out I’ll be devastated,” he said.
He believes Clarke should be a certainty and it is between Westwood and himself for the second captain’s pick.
“If I was captain that’s the way I’d be thinking – and that’s the talk among everybody,” said Bjorn.
Clarke, of course, lost his wife to cancer only three weeks ago, but has declared himself available for selection.
“If he’s ready to play, that’s great,” added Bjorn. “I can’t see a team without him. He’s one of the three or four best ball-strikers in the game and you want those guys there.
“Lee and I have been friends for 10 years and when it comes to a week like this it’s difficult to put friendship aside and battle it out. But there’s been no banter about it between us because it means too much.
“If I don’t win tomorrow then Woosie has got to make a difficult decision and one of us is going to be disappointed.
“I’ve been in the situation twice before where it’s gone away from me when I thought I could be part of it.
“I know how to handle it, but I would have my reasons to feel disappointed if I miss out again.
“I’m not going to say now what they are. I’ll say on Sunday if that’s the way it is.”
K Club memories may yet play a decisive part in Woosnam’s decision.
Westwood has won on the Ryder Cup course twice, whereas Bjorn is always going to be linked for taking 11 on the penultimate hole when joint leader of the European Open last year.
As well as finishing with an 86 that day he has also walked off the other course at the venue two years ago because he was “fighting demons” and chose not to return there this summer.
But it ought to be remembered that prior to that nightmare ending 14 months ago he had played one of the most impressive rounds of his career to lead by four after 54 holes – and also won a €148,000 diamond for his wife Pernilla previously for playing the par fives in 14 under par.
Harrington and Howell, meanwhile, were giving Woosnam the best possible news by showing timely top form.
The Dubliner turned in 33, birdied the long 11th and then had four more in a row from the 13th.
Getting up and down from a greenside bunker at the last would have given him a 63, but he splashed out nine feet past the flag and missed the putt.
At 12 under he was one in front of Howell, who still had 10 holes to play, with Swede Martin Erlandsson and Spain’s Alejandro Canizares – son of former Ryder Cup player Jose Maria – two behind.