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Monday, 21 August 2006

The composition of the United States Ryder Cup Team to face Europe at The K Club is now a matter of public knowledge. However the great imponderable remains – who precisely will be in the opposing European camp when Ian Woosnam completes his line-up in Munich on September 3?

 

Only two weeks of top class golf remain to source the answers, and more clues are likely to be found at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, this week during the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational. 

 

Several potential European players can sit back and relax and concentrate on winning what was previously the NEC Invitational title. For another group, however, the strain and stress of attempting to fill one of the automatic ten places in Woosnam’s side will be transparent to all as time runs out in a race that began at the Omega European Masters last September and concludes at next week’s BMW International Open.

 

Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, by dint of their share of third place behind Tiger Woods in last week’s US PGA Championship, are safely K Club bound, ranked first and second in the European Ryder Cup World Points List with Henrik Stenson – the joint halfway leader at Medinah Country Club – in third place with David Howell fourth and the absent Colin Montgomerie fifth.

 

While Howell is teeing up more in hope than expectation after revealing that he was suffering from a sore right knee in Chicago, the other trio compete at Firestone imbued with a fresh determination to finish the job they started but couldn’t quite complete at the US PGA Championship.

 

Donald’s putting, allied to Woods’s indomitable spirit, contributed to his inability to land a blow on Sunday while Garcia never got close enough to trouble the World Number One. Stenson could not make any progress over the weekend but still finished a highly creditable tied 14th.

 

Montgomerie and Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke – the 2003 champion at Akron – have withdrawn from the event, but Clarke’s close friend, Paul McGinley, returns to action after his decision to miss the US PGA in order to attend the funeral of Heather Clarke last week.

 

McGinley is currently ninth in the Ryder Cup standings and has shown good form over the course, finishing tied third behind Woods 12 months ago. The player now occupying tenth spot, José Maria Olazábal of Spain, is another who loves Firestone, having won the World Series of Golf there by 12 strokes in 1990.

 

With Paul Broadhurst of England – 11th in the standings – not having qualified, there are opportunities for the uncapped Johan Edfors of Sweden and England’s John Bickerton to move into the top ten by Sunday, thanks to a prize fund with in excess of one million first place points to be won.

 

Ian Poulter’s top ten finish in the US PGA Championship will have given the Englishman additional confidence as he bids to emulate his 2004 late sprint for the tape, while another Europeans with Ryder Cup pedigrees aiming to climb the table are Thomas Björn of Denmark, Paul Casey of England, Miguel Angel Jiménez of Spain and England’s Lee Westwood.

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