As we look forward to heading into the new year we take a look at what the 2018 European Ryder Cup team looks like as things stand.
To quickly recap how qualification for Team Europe works, four players will qualify automatically for Thomas Bjørn’s team from the European Points List, four from the World Points List, with the remaining four spots on the 12-man team going to Bjørn’s wildcard picks.
The four men currently occupying the top four spots on the European Points List, which is determined by how many Race to Dubai points a player has earned, are England’s Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick, and Jon Rahm of Spain.
With the qualification process for Le Golf National starting at the D+D Real Czech Masters in August 2017, it’s no surprise to see Rose occupying the top spot, following the 37 year old’s scintillating end of season form, which saw him win back-to-back European Tour events at the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open.
Rose, who has appeared in four of the last five Ryder Cups, came agonisingly close to winning the Race to Dubai following another fine display at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, but an impressive tie for fourth place was not quite enough for the 10-time European Tour winner to overtake Tommy Fleetwood in the overall season rankings.
Hatton also won back-to-back tournaments on the European Tour in 2017, at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open in October, both of which helped the 26 year old surge up the European Points List, where he’ll finish the year in second spot behind Rose.
He rounded off his season in good form after his first Rolex Series win in Italy by posting four top 20 finishes, to end his campaign a very impressive 100 under par in cumulative scoring over his last eight events.
As things stand Bjørn will have at least two debutants in his side to travel to France next year, with Rahm joining Hatton in the top four on the European Points list.
The Spaniard is currently in third spot after a hugely impressive debut season on the European Tour, which included two victories. His triumph at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation came before qualifying started, but he then followed that up with a win at the biggest event of qualification so far - the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, where the 23 year old carded four rounds in the 60s to become the first player to win multiple Rolex Series events.
Those two remarkable performances helped Rahm to become only the third rookie to finish in the top three of the season-long standings, following in the footsteps of his compatriots José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia.
The final spot on the European Points List is occupied by Fitzpatrick, largely thanks to his win at the second counting event in qualification - the Omega European Masters in Switzerland.
Fitzpatrick, who made his debut in the biennial match play event at Hazeltine last year, then went on a fine run of form to close his 2017 season out in style, posting seven straight top 15 finishes after his win in the Swiss mountains, to finish 12th in the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex.
One thing that stands out from the European Points List is the average age of the players currently occupying the top four spots, which comes in quite low at 27.25.
Moving on to the World Points List, which is determined by overall Official World Golf Ranking points earned from all worldwide events, the four players in line for qualification are Spain’s Sergio Garcia, Paul Dunne of Ireland and Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Ross Fisher.
The quartet actually rank between fifth and eighth in that category, however they move into the qualification spots because the top four players in the European Points List are also currently the leading four players in the World Points List.
Garcia again looks likely to feature in a competition that he loves so much, having enjoyed a standout 2017 season, which saw him win a maiden Major Championship at the Masters Tournament alongside two further titles – the first time the 37 year old has recorded three victories in a single season in his 19 year European Tour career.
Dunne also enjoyed a standout 2017 season, winning for the first time on the European Tour in thrilling fashion at the British Masters supported by Sky Sports. He held off a charging Rory McIlroy in Newcastle to shoot a final round nine under par 61 and win by three shots after chipping in at the last.
That wasn’t the only highlight of a season which saw the 25 year old improve on his previous best Race to Dubai finish by 90 places, with Dunne also finishing in the top ten at the Trophee Hasson II, Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Tshwane Open.
Unsurprisingly Fleetwood is also in Bjørn’s team as things stand, with the 2017 Race to Dubai winner currently the third man in through the World Points List.
He enjoyed the most memorable season of his European Tour career, winning twice, - at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and HNA Open de France- and posting six other top ten finishes on the way top topping the season-long rankings for the first time.
The 26 year old’s one shot victory in France would have been of particular interest to Bjørn, with that win coming at Le Golf National – the beautiful course on the outskirts of Versailles which will host the 2018 Ryder Cup.
The final man currently occupying the automatic qualifying spots is Ross Fisher, another player who made huge strides forward in 2017, finishing sixth in the Race to Dubai rankings for his best finish on the European Tour in eight years.
If it wasn’t for Fisher’s close friend and potential future Ryder Cup teammate Hatton, the 37 year old might have won twice, at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open, however despite carding final rounds of 61 and 63 in those events, Fisher eventually finished second and tied second respectively.
So there you have it, the eight players currently occupying those all-important automatic qualification places for the 2018 Ryder Cup team.
Much can change between now and the end of the final counting event - Made in Denmark next August- especially with there being a greater weighting for points earned in tournaments from the 2018 BMW PGA Championship until Denmark next year.
Whatever happens, be sure to keep an eye on the race to qualify for Team Europe as it continues to develop throughout 2018. It’s always an exciting one.