In its own right, the BMW International Open is one of the highlights of any season on The European Tour International Schedule as a glance at the impressive Roll of Honour from 1989 to 2005 will show. However, every two years it takes on an added significance as the final counting event for The European Ryder Cup Team. This year is no exception.
A thrilling qualification journey which began in Crans-sur-Sierre at the beginning of September 2005 will end this week at Golfclub München Nord-Eichenried when the ten automatic places in The European Team bound for The K Club in a month’s time will be confirmed, before Ian Woosnam’s two wild cards are revealed.
Picking the final two players to complete his line up is one of the hardest tasks for any Ryder Cup Captain and one which instantly brings to mind the old adage: ‘You cannot please all of the people all of the time’. Therefore, all eyes will be on the Welshman come Sunday night when he reveals his selections and the reasons behind them.
Of course, there is a lot of golf left to be played before then, four rounds of the BMW International Open which could radically affect Woosnam’s thinking.
As matters stand, seven members of the current top ten are safe, the players who could be caught being the Irish duo of Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, currently in ninth and tenth places respectively on the overall list, and Spain’s José Maria Olazábal, currently fifth in The World Points List.
Olazábal has opted not to play in Munich leaving his place on the World Points List vulnerable, in particular from Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie, who is only a mere 0.27 points behind him. Should the eight time European Tour Order of Merit winner finish 47th tied or better in Munich, he will pass the Spaniard, relegating Olazábal back below McGinley to tenth in the overall standings.
Should that happen, it would give the players in 11th to 14th positions on The European Points List – Paul Broadhurst, Johan Edfors, John Bickerton and Thomas Björn – the opportunity to make the team while Broadhurst and Edfors could both catch Harrington too with victory, should Harrington miss the cut.
For some experienced Ryder Cup players however, the calculator is not required and those competing in Munich such as Miguel Angel Jiménez, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, as well as absentees such as Darren Clarke, will have to hope they have done enough to impress Ian Woosnam in terms of a Wild Card.
One player free from all such worry is England’s David Howell who will collect his second Ryder Cup cap in Ireland following his debut during Europe’s record 18 ½ - 9 ½ victory at Oakland Hills two years ago.
Howell returns to Munich as defending champion after a stunning victory 12 months ago, weekend rounds of 66-65 giving him a 23 under par total of 265 and a one shot victory over American John Daly, who also returns to compete again this year, and Australian Brett Rumford.
The victory ended the Englishman’s six year wait for a second European Tour title following his maiden triumph in the 1999 Dubai Desert Classic and also lit the blue touchpaper for a truly sensational year from then until now.
It began with a head-to-head success over World Number One Tiger Woods in the HSBC Champions tournament in China last November and continued with a stunning victory in the BMW Championship – The Players’ Flagship at Wentworth Club in May.
Added to that were another five top 20 finishes and a host of weekend appearances which have kept Howell at the head of The European Tour Order of Merit for the entire 2006 season. Should he remain there until the conclusion of the Volvo Masters at the end of October, he would become the first player in European Tour history to win the Order of Merit wire-to-wire.
All 156 competitors this week will find the tree-lined and relatively flat Golfclub München Nord-Eichenried course slightly altered from previous years. New fairway bunkers have been added on the first, ninth, 14th and 15th holes with two being added to the right hand side of the 18th fairway. The course also features water hazards on ten holes, the one on the fourth also having been extended for this year’s tournament.
The week will also be cause for celebration for England’s Malcolm Mackenzie, who becomes only the fourth player to reach the notable milestone of 600 events on The European Tour.