Ryder Cup moves ever closer as race reaches Valhalla
With exactly 50 days to go until The 2014 Ryder Cup gets under way at Gleneagles, this week’s US PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the shaping of both American and European teams.
The American points race reaches its conclusion come Sunday evening of the season’s final Major Championship in Louisville, Kentucky, with plenty of scenarios left to play out and a number of difficult decisions awaiting Captain Tom Watson – not least those involving injury-worry Tiger Woods and the previously ever-present Phil Mickelson – before he completes his team on September 2.
For Paul McGinley and his band of Europeans, four weeks and four tournaments remain in which to stake a claim for either one of the nine automatic spots or one of the three Captain’s Picks, also to be announced on September 2 following the Italian Open in the last week of August.
None, however, will be more influential than this week’s US PGA, with its $10 million prize fund and 100 world points on offer to the winner. Indeed with 24 or more available to anyone finishing inside the top five, the World Points List could witness plenty of movement this week.
And with the marathon qualification period nearing its sprint finish, it could not be closer.
Rory McIlroy, Victor Dubuisson, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson currently occupy the top four places in the European Points List, but with such a large prize fund available there are still plenty of opportunities for players well down the European Points List to force their way into these top four places.
However, it is the World Points List that is particularly close with fewer than three points separating the trio of Graeme McDowell, Jamie Donaldson and Luke Donald after the Northern Irishman’s tied eighth finish at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week propelled him into eighth spot, thus forcing Welshman Donaldson into the final automatic position and relegating four-time Ryder Cupper Donald down into tenth.
McDowell has hit his stride at just the right time with his tenth European Tour victory at last month’s Alstom Open de France preceding a tied ninth place at The 143rd Open Championship and another top ten last week in Akron, but the Portrush native is being careful not to get ahead of himself.
“It's something that ticks along in the background for me,” said McDowell, who rose to World Number 15 following his performance in Ohio. “It's something I'm very much looking forward to, and to play my fourth Ryder Cup would be a huge honour. I have come into good form this summer, so hopefully Captain McGinley is watching and feels I can be an instrumental part of the Ryder Cup team.
“I'm getting to the veteran stage now, and I feel like I can definitely be a decent sort of leader for the young guys on the team. I'd like to play my way on out of my own merit as opposed to waiting for a pick, so that's what I'm focused on the next few weeks.”
Another man seeking a star turn in Kentucky is Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, who is looking to follow uncle Bernard into Ryder Cup folklore in Perthshire come September.
Gallacher, who currently lies 11th in the Points Race but just ten points shy of Donaldson in the last automatic spot, says he will be doing everything possible to secure a Ryder Cup place in his home country.
“It would be my Olympics,” Gallacher told the Scotsman newspaper. “We don’t get many chances to play in a team event, especially on home soil, and that’s why I’ll be giving it my all over the next few weeks.
“I’m in the hunt – I just need to finish it off now. All I can do is go out and play the best I possibly can in every event. I can’t rely on what other people are doing. I’ve just got to go out and qualify under my own steam.”
The 39 year old will leave no stone unturned in his Ryder Cup quest after confirming his participation in the final two events of the qualification race – the D+D Real Czech Masters and the climactic Italian Open.
He said: “I’ll go to both the Czech Republic and Italy unless I’m inside the top nine by then and it is mathematically impossible for me to be overtaken. I’m totally committed to the cause and Paul knows that.”
Ian Poulter (12), Miguel Angel Jimenez (13), Francesco Molinari (14), Joost Luiten (15), Lee Westwood (16) and a number of others still retain a chance of forcing their way into the automatic reckoning come August 31 but, unlike the Americans, they all have a three-week push for the line following this week’s US PGA.
Mathematically speaking, with 100 points available to the victor in Louisville, anyone as low as 25th place in the World Points List, in this case Alexander Levy, could potentially move inside the automatic qualification positions should he triumph.
Meanwhile, a first prize of $1.8 million means anyone as low as Shane Lowry, in 16th place in the European Points List currently, could surge inside those all-important top four places should he hoist the Wanamaker trophy on Sunday evening.
But for now, as eyes turn to the majesty of Valhalla, who can grab a piece of Major history this week and with it, perhaps, secure a chance at becoming a Ryder Cup legend?
The race continues…