With a second European major winner of the season on the books thanks to Henrik Stenson’s brilliance at Royal Troon, there was plenty to cheer Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke over the weekend.
Not only had the Irishman seen Sweden’s Stenson join Masters winner Danny Willett in becoming a first-time major champion, European big guns Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia also secured strong finishes in a tie for fifth while an exciting potential rookie in Andy Sullivan had finished 12th.
There are four eligible tournaments to go before the nine automatic qualifying places for Clarke’s team are finalised on August 28 at the conclusion of the Made In Denmark tournament, including a major points grab at next week’s PGA Championship. Which means there is still plenty of opportunity to make a run into the final standings or at the very least persuade the captain who to call on when he makes his three picks to be revealed on August 30.
After claiming a top-30 finish of his own at Troon on Sunday, Clarke was happy with the week on a personal and captaincy level but he insisted there were still claims to be staked on the 12 airline seats bound for Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 26.
He will be playing at Baltusrol next week in the final major of the year, keeping a further eye on potential European team members as they vie for the final major title of the season. And he made it plain he wants to see his players at the business end of the leaderboard at the PGA and the following weeks.
“It’s winning tournaments. That’s what it is, or having strong finishes. And that correlates to points. But obviously playing well this week is going to push a few of them more into contention.”
If the team were to be finalised from the current standings, updated yesterday after The Open, then Clarke would have been dealt a team including five rookies among the nine automatic qualifiers, Willett leading a quintet of first-timers also including Chris Wood, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick.
He said the number of debutants the captain ends up with at the end of next month will determine the identity of his captain’s picks. More rookies qualifying would favour experienced Ryder Cuppers coming into the side as wildcards. At least that’s the theory. The likes of Graeme McDowell, for instance, a clutch European player for the past decade, will still need a big couple of weeks in the next month.
“There’s only a certain amount of places that I would go down to considering in terms of a pick,” Clarke added. “There’s got to be a line. There is a line in my mind that I wouldn’t really go below a certain number looking at picks.
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