AT a time when it seems like everything is going according to plan for the European Ryder Cup team, it is more than a little ironic and disturbing that Pádraig Harrington finds himself struggling for one of the eight automatic places in Colin Montgomerie’s team.
He is now seventh in the world points list from which four qualify and 14th in the European section from which another five go forward to Celtic Manor in the first week of October. The three-times major champion would not be at all popular with Monty should he not automatically make the side and last night Harrington admitted that he was more than a little concerned at his present situation.
“It’s tough to get into the top four in the world rankings because you have a number of players who have been doing very well and dominated in that area,” he accepted. “I’m pushing quite close in the money list but need a few good performances there too and it’s a precarious position because there are a lot of good players who aren’t in the team.
“It’s a great sign of the European Tour and the European team. There are a lot of very good players. Look at those who aren’t currently qualified and there are a half dozen if not more that you might have picked at the start of the year. I want to make sure I’m automatically qualified, I don’t want to leave it to a captain’s choice.”
Given all that, then, it might be reasonable to suggest that Europe were certainties to win back the trophy. But Harrington scorned such a suggestion, maintaining that “the underdogs have won so many times. Europe will be under a lot of pressure although home advantage is a big factor. I can only think that if the Europeans continue to play as they have over the last number of weeks that it will only make the US team all the more determined just as it would have been 10years ago for Europe.
“It will come down to who plays best on the week, who gets the most out of their team, who gels the best together and who creates the best buzz. The team that works together best will win that week.”
Be that as it may, these certainly are changing times. Not so very long ago, European winners on the US PGA Tour were few and far between but in more recent years and certainly in 2010, they have become relatively commonplace. Indeed, of the 28 tournaments so far contested in this campaign, 13 have been captured by non-Americans and six by Europeans.
The trend was set back in January by the Australian Geoff Ogilvy in Hawaii and not a month has passed since without at least one overseas winner.
Justin Rose maintained the trend with a splendid success in the AT&T National in Pennsylvania in the first week of July with the result that American golf is reeling and their prospective Ryder Cup team looking more than a little short of what you would expect from such a great golfing nation.
Skipper Corey Pavin insisted on four “wild card” picks for this year, leaving him with a current top eight of Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Lucas Glover, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker.
After that come Ricky Barnes, Hunter Mahan, Ben Crane and Jeff Overton, at least two of whom would appear unlikely to get a vote of confidence from Pavin. He would more likely look at Stewart Cink and Bubba Watson, 13th and 14th at present, Ricky Fowler, 16th, and just maybe the veteran Scott Verplank.
His European counterpart, Colin Montgomerie, has good reason to be rubbing his hands at the way things are going. He already knows the core of his team with Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer sure of their places. Those in the other leading positions right now are Ross McGowan, Francesco Molonari and Luke Donald. But that leaves a whole host of other outstanding challengers still out in the cold and certainly McGowan and Molinari must be feeling the likes of Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Rhys Davies, Robert Karlsson, Alvaro Quiros, Simon Dyson and Ross Fisher breathing down their necks.
That still leaves Sergio Garcia and Harrington out in the cold too. Even a couple of years ago, a European team without either man would have seemed inconceivable. Such, however, is the talent now available to Montgomerie that nobody on this side of the Atlantic is safe any longer.
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