Nick Bonfield discusses who should get a European Ryder Cup captain's pick with nine players now assured of a place in Darren Clarke's side
Who should get a European Ryder Cup captain’s pick?
Even though there’s officially one week left in the race to qualify automatically for the European Ryder Cup team, the nine spots have been filled up already.
That’s a stark contrast to the American side, which is currently comprised of seven past Ryder Cuppers and one rookie: Brooks Koepka. Plus, the likes of Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar – at least two of whom will surely get a pick – are outside the qualification places.
That all surely adds up to Darren Clarke bolstering his team with some much-needed experience when he selects his wildcard picks on August 30. But who will he choose, and will any rookies make it?
If I were Clarke, here’s who I’d select as my three European Ryder Cup captain’s picks…
1) Lee Westwood
Surely this is as unequivocal as it gets. Westwood is good friends with Clarke and they are both represented by the same management company, but he’s also one of the most experienced Ryder Cuppers in history and someone who’s shown some good form over the past few months. If he gets the nod, he’ll be making his 10th Ryder Cup appearance at Hazeltine. Only Nick Faldo (11) has represented Europe on more occasions.
This season, Westwood has notched five top-15 finishes on the European Tour, including a tie for second at The Masters. Don’t forget he was also in position to challenge for the US Open after three excellent rounds at Oakmont.
What’s more, the Englishman is versatile. He’s played with a number of Europe’s established guard – the likes of Sergio Garcia – in the Ryder Cup over the past decade and he successfully partnered rookies Chris Wood and Matt Fitzpatrick at the EurAsia Cup in January.
Related: Lee Westwood swing analysis
2) Martin Kaymer
Martin Kaymer finished 12th on the European Points List and 14th on the World Points List, so he wasn’t far off qualifying automatically. Plus, bear in mind the German doesn’t have a full PGA Tour card this year, so he’s therefore at a significant disadvantage when it comes to world ranking points.
Kaymer has been in excellent form since the Spring, with three consecutive top-seven finishes in April and May followed by a tie for fifth at the French Open, a tie for 7th at the USPGA Championship and, most recently, a top 15 at the Olympics.
He has a decent Ryder Cup record, he’s in good form, he’s experienced at playing in front of boisterous American crowds and he’s a two-time Major Champion. I’d be absolutely shocked if he didn’t get a pick.
3) Russell Knox
I thought long and hard about selecting Luke Donald or Graeme McDowell here. Donald has just recorded a second-place finish at the Wyndham Championship – his best result for more than four years on the PGA Tour – and has a wealth of Ryder Cup experience. The same can be said for McDowell, who also posted a top-five finish at the Wyndham and is as feisty a head-to-head competitor as you’ll find in golf.
If Clarke picks Knox, the European team will have six rookies in a contest away from home, which is slightly concerning. That said, we had six rookies at Celtic Manor in 2010 and came out on top.
In my mind, Knox is fully deserving of a pick. He won the Travelers Championship two weeks ago and triumphed in the WGC-HSBC Champions in November 2015. If that had counted towards his qualification points (he wasn’t a member of the European Tour at the time so it didn’t) he’d have made the team on merit. In addition to those victories, he’s notched two second-place finishes, at the RBC Heritage and the Irish Open.
In fact, he’s quietly one of Europe’s very best golfers, as his 20th position in the Official World Golf Ranking would indicate. Oh, and he’s also fourth in the FedEx Cup standings, ahead of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson…. Throw into the mix the fact he’s played in America since his college days and he just edges out Donald and McDowell.
Close but no cigar
Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald
I can guarantee you that Clarke is thinking very seriously about selecting one of these two. If it were me, I’d have McDowell ahead of Donald. Their form is broadly similar – although don’t forget that McDowell won his last PGA Tour title in November 2015 and Donald won his in March 2012 – but GMac’s character lends itself more to team competition. Plus, he’s proved he has nerves of steel in the most pressure-filled situations. See his 2010 US Open victory and his defeat of Hunter Mahan at Celtic Manor the same year.
However, one thing that could count against both McDowell and Donald is their comparative lack of distance off the tee. Hazletine is a long golf course and Davis Love III will no doubt set it up to suit the bombers on his team.
The Irishman is undoubtedly talented enough to represent Europe in the Ryder Cup, but he’s endured a spell of indifferent form since playing in the final group at the US Open.
Molinari hasn’t enjoyed the best of seasons, but he’s still finished second at the French Open, eighth at the Quicken Loans National and 22nd at the USPGA. He’s played two Ryder Cups and his consistency from tee to green would be a valuable asset, particularly in foursomes.
An aggressive player with buckets of self-confidence coming off a second-place finish at the Czech Masters, Pieters would make a great dark-horse pick, especially with the prodigious distances he hits the ball off the tee. I just can’t quite see it happening, though.
Noren has finished first and second in the last two months, the latter coming at the Paul Lawrie Match Play, so he clearly has a taste for head-to-head golf. Sadly for him, there are just too many other viable options.