PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON and his European-born US Tour colleagues should no longer have to face any embarrassment or controversy by not returning to Europe and seek to qualify automatically for the Ryder Cup team.
The Tournament Players Committee, chaired by European Team vice-captain, Thomas Bjorn, will vote later this year to bring forward future Johnnie Walker Championship’s so that the final Europe qualifying event does not clash with the commencement of the US Tour’s FedEx Cup play-off series.
Harrington and his much-maligned ‘FedEx Four’ colleagues in Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Justin Rose were criticised for not making the effort to contest either or both the Czech Open or last week’s Gleneagles event.
“It was unfair on those guys competing in the FedEx series as they put in a lot of time and effort to qualify for the series,” said Bjorn after carding a two under par 69 on day one of the European Masters in Switzerland.
“So after what happened this year we have to sit down and look at how maybe moving the Johnnie Walker forward so at least the players committed to competing in America had the chance to do what they needed to do to qualify for the European team.”
Fellow vice-captain and committee member Darren Clarke, who carded a four-under par 67, agreed with his chairman remarking: “In hindsight, moving the Johnnie Walker Championship is a smart idea.
“Thomas has spoken with me and it’s a very valid point moving the event so that those players competing in the FedEx Cup won’t have to face what they were staring at these past two weeks or so.
“So there is a few things we need to tickle but overall Monty is very, very happy with the team he’s taking to Celtic Manor, so is his four vice-captains. I also believe we should make the ‘wild card’ announcement on the Monday morning after the event, and maybe at Tour HQ at Wentworth.”
Clarke birdied his opening and closing holes in his 12th appearance on the alpine course to end the round three behind 17-year old Italian rookie, Matteo Manassero.
Manassero fed off the fervour surrounding the Molinari brothers to record his lowest round of a seven under par 64 since turning pro last May.
England’s Graeme Storm and Finland’s Mikko Illonen are a stroke further back while five players, including the very in-form Edoardo Molinari, are tied at five under par.
Clarke landed a 104-yard wedge to just two feet for birdie at his first hole, the 10th and then holed a 30-foot gem for birdie at his last that delighted new girlfriend, Alison Campbell.
Fellow Ulsterman Gareth Maybin returned from a month’s break to also birdie his first and closing holes in a two-under par 69.
“That was okay and not bad for over a month off so the game’s not too bad,” said Maybin. “I spent much of last week practicing at Ballyclare so that’s paid off and I was a little unlucky as I hit a lot of good putts that easily could have dropped.”
Michael Hoey recorded a level par 71, Paul McGinley was disappointed in posting a one over par 72. Peter Lawrie also hit a 72 while Shane Lowry signed for a 74.