With the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles drawing ever closer and excitement building over the potential makeup of Paul McGinley’s star-studded European team, this week’s US PGA Championship could make or break players’ hopes of appearing in the showpiece event.
Just four weeks remain for the Europeans to stake a claim for an automatic place on the team, failing which, players will hope to do enough to warrant one of three Captain’s picks.
With its $10 million prize fund, 100 Official World Golf Ranking points on offer to the winner and 24 or more available to anyone finishing inside the top five, the final Major of the year has thrown the Ryder Cup race wide open.
Now let’s see how the contenders fared at the end of day one at Valhalla Golf Club.
Lee WESTWOOD (T1)
Euro Points List (18th): 1,071,916.93
World Points List (16th): 111.70
Ryder Cup record: 18-13-6
A ninth consecutive Ryder Cup appearance awaits Westwood if he makes it to Gleneagles in September. He showed what he can do when at his best with a closing 63 at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational last week, and brought that form into his first round at Valhalla, firing nine birdies in his opening round of 65. With McGinley watching on, that might go some way to convincing the Irishman that Westwood’s game is in good shape. The 41 year old needs something special to leapfrog his counterparts into an automatic qualification place, and could not have started any better this week.
Joost LUITEN (T11)
Euro Points List (11th): 1,603,644.68
World Points List (15th): 124.90
Ryder Cup record: N/A
The Dutchman is definitely in the running for one of the five places on offer from the World Points List, and although he is yet to win in 2014, Luiten’s two wins on The European Tour last year show he is a real threat. The 28 year old started his US PGA Championship challenge with a fine three under par 68, but is making sure he does not get carried away with all the Ryder Cup talk.
“I know I need to play well to have a chance to make the team, but I’m just going to take every round as it comes. I know I need to play good golf. That's all I need to do. I've got three more tournaments to play, including this one, and I probably need to win one or finish high up the leaderboard this week. It’s pretty simple in my eyes.”
Ian POULTER (T11)
Euro Points List (9th): 1,947,113.13
World Points List (12th): 149.07
Ryder Cup record: 12-3-0
‘Mr Ryder Cup’ will want to show McGinley some good form in the next few weeks, and he did just that in his first round at Valhalla on Thursday – posting an impressive 68, which saw him come home in just 33 shots. Another under par round on Friday will see him head into the weekend well placed for a potential big push up the Ryder Cup points lists, and here’s what Ian thought of his display:
“I’m happy with that performance and the overall state of my game, because it hasn't been there for a little while. So I think the work that I put in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday was rewarded. I’ve hit so many balls in my practice sessions as the body is allowing me to do just that at the minute, which is a good thing. My form is coming back at the right time of the year.”
Jamie DONALDSON (T20)
Euro Points List (5th): 2,446,864.89
World Points List (9th): 165.01
Ryder Cup record: N/A
The Welsh wonder has been impressive on The European Tour and would love to see that form rewarded with a maiden appearance at The Ryder Cup. Currently in the final qualification place in the World Points List, Donaldson has started in positive fashion in Valhalla, with a first round 69. If he can replicate that sort of steady form going into the weekend, this could end up being the week the 38 year old ensures his place on the European side.
Luke DONALD (T36)
Euro Points List (27th): 841,554.29
World Points List (10th): 164.30
Ryder Cup record: 10-4-1
With fewer than three points separating the former World Number One from McDowell and Donaldson and a place in the side via the World Points List, Donald is in unfamiliar territory, as he attempts to qualify for his third successive Ryder Cup. Like his compatriot Poulter, Donald is also one of the toughest match play opponents in world golf, but despite going out in 31 shots on day one in Louisville, a difficult back nine saw Donald post an opening round 70.
Stephen GALLACHER (T36)
Euro Points List (13th): 1,574,466.61
World Points List (11th): 156.53
Ryder Cup record: N/A
The Scot is well and truly in the mix in the World Points List – only two places back from Donaldson and that all-important final qualification spot, and a one under par 70 in his opening round means Gallacher is another of the contenders well placed after the first 18 at Valhalla. He finished in a tie for 15th at The Open Championship and a similar result here would do his hopes of following Uncle Bernard into Ryder Cup folklore no damage whatsoever.
Francesco MOLINARI (T53)
Euro Points List (14th): 1,428,000.45
World Points List (14th): 136.59
Ryder Cup record: 0-4-2
The Italian is in with a shout of sneaking into the fray, and has shown glimpses of form recently, most notably at The Open Championship, where he went into the weekend in a tie for third. His brother Edoardo might have won round Gleneagles before, and is himself in a tie for fourth at the US PGA Championship after day one, but it’s Francesco who is one big tournament performance away from perhaps making his third Ryder Cup team.
Graeme MCDOWELL (T93)
Euro Points List (10th): 1,649,136.53
World Points List (8th): 166.99
Ryder Cup record: 5-5-2
G-Mac’s standing of eighth in the World Points List sees him in the side at the moment, what with four of those above him also occupying a top four place in the European points list. Although a two over par 73 was not what he was wishing for in his opening round at the US PGA Championship, the Northern Irishman could be dangerous if he makes the cut in Kentucky.
The hero from Celtic Manor in 2010 has performed splendidly over the weekend at recent events, coming from way back to defend his Alstom Open de France title last month, before shooting 66-67 over the final two days at Hoylake in the recent Open Championship, and most recently he two 66s to close out the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational.
(Please Note: Ryder Cup records are displayed in won, lost, halved order. N/A indicates a player who is yet to appear in a Ryder Cup.)