Race for Gleneagles hotting up

The race for a place in Paul McGinley’s European team for The 2014 Ryder Cup is progressing apace with big-points events such as last week’s Open Championship and the upcoming tournaments stateside set to play a huge part in who makes the cut for Gleneagles.

With just six weeks and six European Tour events remaining of the qualification period, which ends at the close of the Italian Open in the last week of August, the time-frame in which to make a decisive move into the automatic spots is rapidly dwindling.

Last Sunday, Rory McIlroy not only captured his third Major title in hoisting the Claret Jug at Hoylake, but the Northern Irishman also cemented his place in McGinley’s side by reaching over three million points to move well clear at the top of the European Points List.

It will be the 25 year old’s third successive Ryder Cup, having debuted at Celtic Manor and made a second appearance in the stunning comeback two years later at Medinah Country Club, but whether his long-time playing partner Graeme McDowell can also secure one of the nine automatic spots is currently less clear-cut.

Currently in 11th place on the World Points List, McDowell, however, is on a run of good form having finished tied eighth at Royal Liverpool after winning the Alstom Open de France two weeks prior to the season’s third Major Championship.

The 34 year old Portrush native lies just 12 points behind Englishman Luke Donald, who currently holds the final automatic qualification berth, close behind Scotland Stephen Gallacher and just clear of Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter – both of whom will also be pushing hard to make the team on merit.

Scot Gallacher, who will play in both of the next two weeks’ lucrative WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship, is even closer to making The Ryder Cup in his homeland, currently just eight points behind Donald.

The 39 year old is also in a rich vein of form having posted a tied fourth finish at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open two weeks ago and a tied 15th place at Hoylake last week and is desperate to make a Ryder Cup bow in his own back yard.

Ryder Cup stalwart Lee Westwood, meanwhile, has a massive two weeks ahead of him.

The Englishman, who has played in every match since 1997, lies in 16th place on the World Points List as it stands and is in need of a couple of good performances to either force his way into the automatic reckoning or convince McGinley he is in decent enough form to warrant a Captain’s Pick.

Jamie Donaldson looked almost guaranteed to seal a maiden Ryder Cup appearance until very recently but, having missed the cut in both the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and Open Championship, his automatic berth now looks increasingly perilous.

Still sitting third in the European Points List, the 38 year old has a high-tariff trio of Gallacher, McDowell and Poulter breathing down his neck and strong performances from this trio in Akron and Valhalla could edge the Welshman from the team.

Elsewhere, two-time Ryder cup player Francesco Molinari will also be targeting some strong performances in the coming weeks.

The Italian, who lies 14th in the European Points List currently, will have home comforts to help spur him on during the final week of the qualification period, with his national Open Championship set to be contested at his home course of Circolo Golf Torino.

With Thomas Bjorn, Victor Dubuisson, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer well-ensconced in the automatic spots, the likes of ever-popular Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and talented Dutchman Joost Luiten also still retain a chance of making the trip up to Perthshire come September.

As the Ryder Cup Points Race enters the final furlong, with peril, pitfalls and possibility at every turn, who can put together a sprint finish to the line?

An intriguing conclusion awaits…