With just two weeks left for players to force their way into the automatic qualification spots for the 2016 European Ryder Cup team, the stakes could not be higher.
After nearly 12 months of action across the globe in the Ryder Cup Rankings points race, only two European Tour events remain - this week’s D+D REAL Czech Masters and next week’s Made in Denmark – plus the Wyndham Championship on the US PGA Tour.
The top nine players at the close of the Made in Denmark will automatically book their spots on the plane to Hazeltine come the end of September, while European Captain Darren Clarke will complete his line-up with three captain’s picks on August 30.
But who will be in the side? Who is playing and where? Who can still qualify automatically and who needs to impress the Northern Irishman with a strong final showing?
Wonder no more…
Automatic Qualification Spots
7. Chris Wood
Propelled himself into contention for a Ryder Cup debut after landing the biggest title of his career in May’s BMW PGA Championship, where a three under par 69 in the final round gave him a one-stroke victory at Wentworth, Wood has enjoyed a further five top 20 finishes in 2016. While not playing in Prague this week. He has entered Made in Denmark and will be pushing hard to maintain, if not better, his current standing on the World Points List.
8. Andy Sullivan
Also firmly in the mix for his own Ryder Cup bow after a highly consistent run of performances during the qualification period – including a win at last autumn’s Portugal Masters - the 30 year old has entered both the D+D REAL Czech Masters and Made in Denmark in a bid to solidify his automatic qualification status. Sullivan’s recent efforts on the European Tour include a fifth place at the 100th Open de France, sixth at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, and 12th at the 145thOpen Championship, so no doubt he will want his good form to do all the talking when it comes to team selection.
9. Matthew Fitzpatrick
Currently occupying the final automatic qualification spot, and therefore perhaps ‘the danger man’, Fitzpatrick will be in action at both of the next two tournaments on the European Tour as he looks to firm up his position as the youngest member in Clarke’s 12-man team. Despite two wins in the qualification race – at the British Masters and Nordea Masters, there are still plenty of potential candidates still breathing down his neck with two weeks to go…
Potential Captains Picks
10. Russell Knox
Although on the brink of automatic qualification, Knox has elected not to enter any of the remaining qualifying tournaments and with it bolster his standing on the World Points List. However, an impressive victory for the Scot at the US PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship earlier this month was sure to have been noticed by Clarke, strengthening his credentials for a possible wildcard pick and a Ryder Cup debut in Minnesota.
11. Søren Kjeldsen
Not in the field this week in the Czech Republic, there is no doubt Kjeldsen will be relishing the opportunity to perform on the big stage in front of a home crowd at Made in Denmark., However, there is not enough money or points available for the Dane to qualify automatically so he will be hoping to catch the eye of Clarke with a strong performance.
12. Lee Westwood
With 23 European Tour titles to his name, Westwood was ever so close to claiming the 2016 Masters Tournament, tied for second at two under par with Jordan Spieth and just three shots off the pace as stablemate Danny Willett donned the Green Jacket at Augusta in April. Down to play this week but not in Denmark, there is not enough money or points available at this week’s Czech Masters for the Englishman to qualify outright, however Westwood has the advantage of having played in every Ryder Cup since 1997, something Clarke will no doubt be considering seriously as he ponders his captain’s picks.
13. Martin Kaymer
Two-time Major Championship winner Kaymer has entered Made in Denmark but again the scenario of not enough money or points available to qualify comes to light. A three-time Ryder Cup veteran, who so memorably sunk the winning putt to secure the Miracle at Medinah four years ago, the German has had a consistent year with seven top 15 finishes in his last nine starts and will be putting in one final effort to get the nod of approval from Clarke in two weeks.
There are just three players remaining who still have a mathematical chance of prying their way into the automatic qualification places at the last.
It’s important to note the trio must as a minimum requirement get within 28 points of ninth place this week otherwise the nine automatic qualifying spots will be determined before Made in Denmark.
14. Tyrrell Hatton
A win at this week’s Wyndham Championship in America would take Hatton past countryman Sullivan's current total, but as a minimum he must finish tied 12th with one other to stay in the race. The 24 year old has also entered Made in Denmark so is making every effort to grab a last-ditch place in Clarke’s side for a Ryder Cup debut.
16. Shane Lowry
A win at the Wyndham Championship would also take Lowry past Sullivan's current total but the Irishman needs a minimum fourth place finish in America to stay in the race. He has also entered Made in Denmark the following week.
18. Thomas Pieters
The defending D+D REAL Czech Masters Champion will have to lay it on the line this week in Prague with a win for Pietersthe only way to keep his automatic Ryder Cup hopes alive. If the Belgian was also to secure a win the following week in Denmark, he would surpass Sullivan's current total. A chance, yes, but a slim one.