Players to watch as Ryder Cup Europe nears team selections
RIDGEWOOD, N.J. – Unlike the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which named its first eight players a week ago, Europe has yet to finalize any portion of its team that will compete in the 42nd Ryder Cup Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National outside Paris.
The European team is chosen off of two separate point lists, with four players automatically qualifying off each. The top four right now in European points: Open Championship winner Francesco Molinari and Englishmen Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood; off the world points list, the top four are Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Alex Noren and Thorbjorn Olesen, who moved into the top four after his fourth-place finish on Sunday at the European Tour’s Nordea Masters.
Captain Thomas Bjorn will have several attractive choices to sort through before naming his four captain’s picks on Sept. 2. The player bumped out of the top eight by the red-hot Olesen, who has five top-10 finishes in his last nine starts, was Ian Poulter, who has been a Ryder Cup terror through the years (12-4-2, and unbeaten in singles). After nearly losing his Tour card more than a year ago, Poulter has played his way back to No. 32 in the world, and given his Ryder Cup history, would appear to have an inside track on being one of Bjorn's picks should he finish outside of the top eight qualifiers.
Other players currently on the wrong side of the bubble include Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, who performed well as a Ryder Cup rookie at Hazeltine two years ago; Paul Casey, who rejoined the European Tour this season to have a shot at his first Ryder Cup team in a decade; Scotsman Russell Knox, the Irish Open champion; and former Open champion Henrik Stenson.
If Sergio Garcia is to make a ninth European team, it would be via a captain’s pick, and unfortunately, he’s out of opportunities to impress his captain. Garcia’s T-24 finish at the Wyndham Championship on Sunday left him out of the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the first time since they began in 2007. (He'd started the day tied for eighth.) Cabrero Bello, Poulter, Casey, Knox and Stenson all will be teeing it up at this week’s Northern Trust at New Jersey’s Ridgefield Country Club.
Garcia’s performance at the Wyndham Championship – his best finish in his final 11 starts of the season – capped an uncharacteristically poor season for the 38-year-old, who one year earlier broke through to capture his first major championship when he outdistanced Rose at the Masters.
This season, Garcia missed eight cuts in his last 11 PGA Tour starts, and for the first time in his career had the weekend off at each of the majors. He putted poorly (149th in strokes-gained: putting), failed to make enough birdies (T-112), and on a weekend that he needed to make a significant move, he simply didn’t move far enough. He entered the week at No. 131 in FedEx points and had an opening after so many players in front of him on the bubble missed the cut. But he climbed only three spots in the final standings, finishing 128th.
Since making his Ryder Cup debut alongside Sweden’s Jesper Parnevik at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., in 1999, at age 19, Garcia has played on every European Ryder Cup team with the exception of 2010, when he served as assistant captain to Colin Montgomerie in a winning team effort in Wales. Garcia has a career mark in the Ryder Cup of 19-11-7.
Olesen, 28, of Denmark, is trying to make his first Ryder Cup side, and he continued a nice run on Sunday with his fourth-place finish. Olesen won the Italian Open in June and in eight starts since, has four other finishes of T-6 or better. Cabrera Bello also has been in solid form. His tie for 11th on Sunday at Wyndham gives him finishes of T-17 or better in his last three starts, including a tie for 10th at the PGA Championship. He passed Poulter and trails Olesen for the final berth in world points.
Stenson, 42, the 2016 Open champion and a veteran of four Ryder Cup teams, injured his elbow last month and had to withdraw from the Scottish Open. On Sunday in Greensboro, where he was defending champion, he finished strongly, shooting 64 to climb into a tie for 20th.