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August 24th, 2012

There was great news this week for fans of the Ryder Cup, scheduled to begin September 25, 2012. Sergio Garcia, with his win at the Wyndham championship, locked up his spot on the European squad. That’s not great news for fans of team USA necessarily, particularly coming on the heels of Ian Poulter’s finish at the PGA. Both Sergio and Poulter will in all likelihood be playing for the European team and both clearly love and excel at that event.


Sergio missed making the team in 2010, but such was his desire to be involved that he agreed to serve as an assistant, a position usually reserved for a veteran, past his prime. I don’t know about you, but I missed Garcia at the Ryder Cup. Whether you love him, or love to hate him, it’s always been clear that Sergio cares passionately about the Ryder Cup. So in 2012, a year when he made some curious comments that sounded suspiciously as if he’d given up trying, it’s good to see that the Ryder Cup at least continues to stoke his competitive desire. I think he will be formidable.


Two weeks ago Sergio was by no means a guaranteed participant. Today, he’s safely on the team. It’s clear he wants to be on the team, and he’s backed it by great golf in recent weeks. That’s not good for the US squad, given Sergio’s 14-6-4 Ryder Cup record and the fact that the matches will be played at Medinah Country Club where, in 1999 at age 19, he almost took The PGA Championship from Tiger.


It is strange to recall that Sergio, the one who ran up the hill on number 16 and scissor-kicked his way into the hearts of teenage girls everywhere, now that he’s grown into a curmudgeonly, snappish old man at age 31 (32 in September). In recent years we’ve grown accustomed to seeing Sergio behave with all the charm of a constipated toddler with an ear infection. I for one hope this win, and the Ryder Cup, bring back the Sergio who once said to Phil Mickelson after he’d made the turn in 4 over par, “Hey, let’s have some fun on this side.” I’m reasonably certain Sergio will do something hideously boorish in the coming weeks that will make me regret what I just wrote…but I can always hope.


Ian Poulter may be even more formidable as a member of the Euro squad. Poulter loves match play. He’s won the WGC World Match Play Championship and the Volvo World Match Play title, the only player other than Tiger Woods to have done so. Unlike Tiger, Poulter has a stellar Ryder Cup record. You might recall he went 4-0-1 in 2008 and 3-1 in 2010.


Sergio’s recent win bumps Poulter from the top ten of those automatically qualifying for the team, but it’s a dead certainty he’ll be a Captain’s pick. Poulter needed a good showing at the PGA Championship in order to impress Captain Jose Maria Olazabal and he did just that. His final round, featuring 8 birdies were exactly what he needed to impress. Team Europe has to be feeling good about now with the numbers 1, 2, 4 and 7 ranked golfers in the world on their team---and now with Poulter and Garcia playing at top ten levels once again. Davis Love III, the US captain has probably noticed as well, and he might be a bit concerned.


It will be interesting to see how the European team rounds out. Europe selects its players from 2 separate point lists. The top 5 from the European Ryder Cup point list, and the top 5 not otherwise qualified from the World Ryder Cup point list make the team automatically, leaving just 2 captain’s picks. The European team, as of today, would be comprised of the following, plus two captain’s picks:

Rory McIlroy

Justin Rose

Graeme McDowell

Paul Lawrie

Francesco Molinari

Luke Donald

Lee Westwood

Sergio Garcia

Peter Hanson

Martin Kaymer


This week’s Johnnie Walker Championship in Europe is the concluding event at which points can be earned. The only one of the ten in jeopardy of falling from the team is Martin Kaymer, who can get knocked out on points by a Nicolas Colsaerts victory or second place finish. Whoever doesn’t secure that tenth spot will likely be considered, along with Poulter, on the very short list for the two captains picks. Poulter, having been bumped from the top ten by Garcia’s win last week, is playing in the FedExCup at The Barclays this week, rather than trying to earn his way on the team at the Johnnie Walker. What does that mean? It means that Poulter knows he’s a lock for a Captain’s pick.


That leaves one pick, in reality, for Olazabal. If I’m Ollie, I’m hoping Colsaerts bumps Kaymer for that final spot, so I can spend my pick elsewhere, say, on Padraig Harrington. If Kaymer doesn’t qualify on points, it’s a sure bet he won’t get picked by Olazabal. Kaymer’s game has fallen off dramatically since he changed his swing following his PGA victory 2 years ago (WHY do they do that?) and he’s had no top tens since April this year. Plus, he’s not playing in the Johnnie Walker this week, an indication of his desire, or lack thereof.


Harrington, whose position on the points list left him no chance to play his way on by participating in the Johnnie Walker, is instead playing in the FedExCup at The Barclays. A three-time Major winner and Ryder Cup stalwart over the last decade, and who’s been playing beautifully of late, it’s hard to imagine Harrington not in the selection equation, particularly when others in the running are guys like Rafael Cabrera-Bello and David Lynn. Who are they, you might ask? Exactly. I’m pretty sure were it up to Davis Love III to select for Ollie, he’d toss out Harrington and flip a coin between these other two leader board lurkers. That would seem a no-brainer. So why would Olazabal say recently of Harrington that he would have to do “something extraordinary” to get his serious consideration?


Well, it seems there’s a feud going on here, dating back to the 2003 Seve Trophy during which Harrington questioned Olazabal’s repair of a pitch mark. Both players deny it, but they do so in terms that make clear they are lying. It’s hard to believe Ollie would base his decision on personal animosity, but when asked recently to define what Harrington could do that he would consider “extraordianary,” he said, “at least a win.”


With the Barclays being the sole tournament remaining before Ollie makes his selections, it’s hard to fathom what Harrington might do beyond winning. What more could it take? A win by 3, 5, 10 shots? A win and a hole in one? A win while putting one handed? A win while going commando and sporting a broken zipper (I think we’d all agree on that one)? What does it mean, this term “at least a win?” I might suggest it means only that Olazabal really, really, really doesn’t want to take Harrington. Thus, he’s left himself some wiggle room by suggesting it could take more than a win. That may sound stupid (and it is) but such is the nature of pride among men. It frequently makes them stupid.


The good news for the US team is it would appear unlikely they will have to face a Euro squad with Harrington. If Colsaerts doesn’t finish in the top two at The Johnnie Walker, he’ll get the nod anyway. The bad news for Europe is, without Harrington, they might field a team featuring someone Phil Mickelson can actually beat in a match.


As I go to post this, I see that Padraig Harrington shot a 7 under 64 and is leading the Barclays. I wonder if he’s wearing underwear?


Coming soon: the inside skinny on the US team. Why Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan shouldn’t be considered locks for a Captain’s pick…and much more.

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