The year-long European Ryder Cup Qualification race is nearing its end and the sprint for the line moves up a gear at this week’s WGC – Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.
The season’s third WGC event is followed by the final Major of 2012 next week with the final leg taking place at Gleneagles for the Johnnie Walker Championship from August 22 -26 as players vie for places on the plane bound for Chicago.
Some players look like certainties for the European Team who will take on the United States at Medinah Country Club from September 28-30, with Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood virtually assured of a place among the ten automatic qualifiers. Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari are also looking secure in their bids for second Ryder Cup caps, Lawrie hoping to return to the fold for the first time since 1999 and Molinari keeping his place from Celtic Manor two years ago, although until the team is announced nothing is certain.
But there is work to be done for Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia, the players currently occupying the last three automatic spots, as they look to hold the chasing pack at bay.
Hot on their heels are the likes of big-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts, the Volvo World Match Play Champion peaking at just the right time in his bid to become the first Belgian to play in The Ryder Cup. Then there are the Spanish contingent of Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Gonzalez Fernandez-Castaño and Alvaro Quiros, a formidable trio spurred on by the spirit of Seve and the desire to play for Captain José María Olazábal.
Ian Poulter, one of the game’s great match play exponents who thrives on the cut and thrust of the head-to-head game, is another on the outside needing a big performance to force his way into the reckoning, as does Padraig Harrington, an ever present in the team since his debut in 1999.
And with so many points – through both World Ranking and prize money – available, players such as Marcel Siem, Thomas Björn, Simon Dyson and many more cannot be discounted should they challenge at either Firestone Country Club or Kiawah Island.
The battle in the World Points List is particularly close with less than five points separating Garcia, currently occupying the last automatic spot, and his closest challenger Colsaerts – a gap that could be eliminated with a top 15 finish for the Belgian this week should Garcia finish well down the field. Poulter is 16 points adrift of Garcia and a top five this week could lift him past the Spaniard. Indeed, with 76 points available for the winner of the WGC – Bridgestone, that last automatic place is within reach for many including the likes of Irish Open Champion Jamie Donaldson.
The US PGA Championship offers even more opportunity with 100 points for the winner, keeping the Ryder Cup door open for any number of players who can finish in the upper reaches of the leaderboard at Kiawah Island. After that, the last chance to win points in America will be at the Wyndham Championship and thereafter back in Europe at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles only.
The European Points List is probably more locked in with Molinari in the last of the five automatic spots with a lead of approximately 185,000 points over sixth placed Kaymer. And with Kaymer, Hanson and Donald currently in from the World Points list, any passing of Molinari by these three will just reshuffle the order. Colsaerts is the closest of those rivals not yet qualified and needs to earn 310,000 more than the Italian to rein him in over the next three weeks, while Fernandez-Castaño trails by 437,870. But these are not insurmountable with the substantial prize money on offer over the next three European Tour events.
History has shown that the race always comes down to the wire and we can expect the same as the 2012 race heads to a thrilling climax.