The long and winding road leading from the rugged Alpine splendour of Crans Montana to the flat, green parkland of The K Club in Ireland begins this week as the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre once again launches the European qualification process for The 36th Ryder Cup.
The countdown commences with the system, introduced for the first time for The 2004 Ryder Cup, which helped to produce a record 18 ½ - 9 ½ victory for Bernhard Langer’s European Team over the United States at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan.
Following that outstanding success, European Team qualification will once again be based on points earned through - in order of precedence - The Ryder Cup World Points List then The Ryder Cup European Points List, with five players from each list earning places automatically.
Captain Ian Woosnam will then select the remaining two players following the conclusion of the BMW International Open at Golfclub München Nord-Eichenried, Munich, Germany, on September 3, 2006.
All of which adds additional spice to events in Switzerland this week as every European player present, in what again is a high quality field, will be looking to get off to a fast start in the race to be at The K Club in just over a year’s time.
Headlining that quest will be one of the players who was part of that memorable week in Detroit in September 2004, England’s Luke Donald, who will also wear the guise of defending champion in Crans-sur-Sierre.
Donald was in imperious form 12 months ago when spectacular rounds of 67-67-65-66 gave him a five shot victory, and one that more than repaid Langer’s faith in him, coming, as it did, only a week after he named him alongside Colin Montgomerie as one of his two ‘Wild Card’ selections.
Five weeks earlier, Donald won the Scandinavian Masters by Carlsberg in Sweden to announce his arrival but it was his mature and polished performance in the mountains of Switzerland that earmarked him as one of the true talents in the game, and he has gone on to prove that by rising from Number 47 then to his current position of Number 14 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Nearest challenger to Donald last year was Miguel Angel Jiménez while Sergio Garcia – whom Donald will again be staying with in Crans Montana this year - tied third. The two Spaniards, of course, were part of The 2004 Ryder Cup Team too and they return to Crans-sur-Sierre alongside a fourth member of the side, England’s Paul Casey.
Also present in the field is Eduardo Romero, who will be looking to become the oldest player to win a European Tour title, having turned 51 last month. The Argentine showed that his game was in tip-top condition when he romped to an eight shot win in the Travis Perkins Senior Masters at Wentworth Club on the European Seniors Tour two weeks ago, and no-one knows the Crans-sur-Sierre layout better than ‘El Gato’ who carded a course record 62 on his way to a ten shot victory in the event in 2000.
The man whose record he would take is Des Smyth who was 48 years and 34 days old when he won the 2001 Madeira Island Open and, keeping the Ryder Cup theme alive, Smyth, of course, was named alongside Peter Baker as Woosnam’s Vice Captain for The K Club.