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Ireland's Paul McGinley, the hero of Team Europe's win at The De Vere Belfry in 2002, heads to the WGC-NEC Invitational this week following his joint sixth finish in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo: Getty Images)
Ireland's Paul McGinley, the hero of Team Europe's win at The De Vere Belfry in 2002, heads to the WGC-NEC Invitational this week following his joint sixth finish in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Sprint is On for Ryder Cup Hopefuls


September 01, 2004

The Ryder Cup race, which started 43 tournaments and 11 months ago, reaches its climax over the next fortnight with the first five Members of the European Team bound for Oakland Hills Country Club decided at the conclusion of this week's World Golf Championships - NEC Invitational at Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio, where Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke returns as defending champion.

A total of 31 European Tour Members are eligible, but with the withdrawal of Thomas Bj?rn through a shoulder injury and Retief Goosen after a jet ski injury, some 30 Members will tee up in Ohio, including eight players currently in the qualifying places for the forthcoming Ryder Cup.

Much of the focus will be on the European Ryder Cup race. Under the new qualification system adopted for the first time for The 35th Ryder Cup Matches, to be played ay Oakland Hills Country Club, Bloomfield Township, Michigan, USA, the leading five players from the World Points List after the WGC - NEC Invitational will qualify for the European Team.

The following week, the remaining five qualifiers will be determined after the BMW International Open at Golfclub M?nchen Nord-Eichenreid through the European Points List. Ryder Cup Captain Bernhard Langer will also announce his two wild card selections who will face the United States and attempt to retain the Trophy from September 17-19.

The five players currently in the frame through the World Points List are, in order, Padriag Harrington of Ireland, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, Miguel Angel Jim?nez of Spain and Lee Westwood of England.

That leaves Swede Fredrik Jacobson, sixth in the World Points List and 12th in the European Points List as the leading challenger gunning for a place in Bernhard Langer's European Team.

Jacobson closed the gap on Westwood to 8.02 points in the World Points List, and on current predictions for the points available, Jacobson needs to finish at least 13th to have any chance of passing Westwood, and that providing Westwood finishes outside the top 58.

England's Luke Donald, currently tenth in the World Points List, can also force his way into the team via this route but needs to finish at least tied second with one other player or better.

The battle for places through the European Points List is also coming down to the wire and with the English duo of David Howell and Ian Poulter ineligible for the WGC - NEC Invitational, there is a chance for some of the other runners to steal a march on them before the final counting event in Germany.

Paul McGinley of Ireland heads to Akron, Ohio, brimming with confidence after his final round 69, one of only two sub-70 scores on the final day at Whistling Straits, lifted him into joint sixth, finishing the final Major Championship of the 2004 season as the leading European. That performance lifted him to the last qualification spot, a position he can solidify at Firestone.

Frenchman Jean-Francois Remesy is one place outside the qualifying spots, but like Howell and Poulter, is ineligible for the WGC - NEC Invitational, opening the door to Joakim Haeggman of Sweden, who dropped out of the last qualifying place after the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin. A good week could put Haeggman back on course for a second Ryder Cup cap.

? Ryder Cup Ltd

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