Tuesday, 07 August 2012
Luke Donald   (Getty Images)
Luke Donald (Getty Images)

The Ryder Cup dream is still alive for as many as 34 Europeans in action at the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island this week as the qualification race nears its conclusion.

Aside from some reshuffling of the order, the ten players in line for automatic qualification for the European Ryder Cup Team remain the same after last week’s WGC – Bridgestone Invitational.

Rory McIlroy extended his lead at the top of the European Points List – which will supply the first five players for European Captain José María Olazábal’s team – ahead of Justin Rose, who shared fifth place with the Northern Irishman in Akron to overtake Graeme McDowell.  Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari complete the current top five.

On the World Points List – which will supply qualifiers six to ten – World Number One Luke Donald leads the five currently in the box seats, ahead of Lee Westwood, Peter Hanson and Martin Kaymer with Sergio Garcia last man in heading into the final Major of the season for what could well be a decisive week.

While the US Ryder Cup race concludes on Sunday, with eight players earning the right to represent the United States at Medinah Country Club, Chicago, from September 28-30, and the remaining four wild cards to be named by US Captain Davis Love III on September 4 in New York, the European race still has a couple of weeks to run.

Only two events remain to qualify via the European Points List; this week’s US PGA Championship and the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles a fortnight later,  while there are three possible opportunities to pick up World Points via the US PGA, next week’s Wyndham Championship on the US PGA Tour and then the race climax at the Johnnie Walker Championship, with the ten automatic qualifiers confirmed at the conclusion of that tournament. José María Olazábal will then announce his two wild cards at noon the following day in the ballroom of The Gleneagles Hotel.

With over €1million expected to be announced as the first prize at this week’s US PGA Championship, anyone down to 19th placed Miguel Angel Jiménez could force their way into those top five places on the European Points List, but it is the battle for World Points that looks a closer affair.

Garcia currently holds the last automatic spot on the World Points list with a slender six point advantage over Nicolas Colsaerts, the Belgian therefore needing at least a top 22 finish to have any chance of passing Garcia.

With 100 world points available to the winner, Pablo Larrazabal, currently 41st in the list, is still theoretically in with a chance should he win, and even Anders Hansen in 43rd would move within striking distance going into the final event, but it is those players on the bubble who will have the calculator out.

Colsaerts will be eyeing a minimum top 20 performance to boost his chances of becoming the first Belgian to represent Europe, with Ian Poulter next in line needing at least a top eight finish to get past Garcia. Rafael Cabrera-Bello trails his fellow Spaniard by 18.40 points and would therefore need a top six finish to have any hope of making up that difference, while Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño needs a top four.

Garcia may well be looking over his shoulder at those challenging but, of course, he too has the opportunity to cement his place, and, after coming so close in the 2008 US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills when he finished joint second behind Padraig Harrington, he has experience on his side.

A top ten finish could be good enough to catch 2010 US PGA Champion Kaymer in ninth place and his position would be much less precarious, however Harrington, an ever present in the team since 1999, needs a top two finish to make up the 60 world points he trails Garcia by.

There is, of course, another opportunity for Europeans in the mix at Gleneagles and history has shown the race is not run until the final putt drops in that final event. Two years ago, for example, Peter Hanson forced his way into the team when he won the Czech Open the week after the US PGA, and Edoardo Molinari’s victory in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles itself secured a wild card pick. Indeed, two runners-up finishes in the last two qualifying events earned Harrington his first Ryder Cup cap in 1999.

The European race will continue after the last putt drops on Sunday night but for the American’s this really is ‘Glory’s Last Shot’. The eight automatic places are currently held by Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson with Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk – who holed the winning putt in the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla –  and Rickie Fowler, all part of the 2010 team, looking for a big performance in South Carolina.

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