Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Ryder Cup: Crunch time for faltering European golfers

The US Ryder Cup team will be hoping for a big performance from Tiger Woods who is back up to number two in the world rankings

Davis Love can be excused for looking the happier of the two Ryder Cup captains as golf strives this week to take some of the sporting attention away from the Olympics.

The USPGA Championship is the last major of the season and it is also the last counting event in the race for places in Love's team to take on Europe next month.



While Jose Maria Olazabal does not have a reigning major champion in the PGA field at Kiawah Island – famous for its "War on the Shore" staging of the 1991 Ryder Cup – Love has three. Keegan Bradley is the man defending the title, Bubba Watson is Masters champion and Webb Simpson holder of the US Open.



With Tiger Woods back up to world No 2 and Bradley, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker at the head of things in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last weekend – Bradley won it when Furyk shockingly double-bogeyed the final hole – Love can take a relaxed view.



Olazabal, of course, can still point to the fact that Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood are first, third and fourth in the world rankings. But while Donald continues to churn out high finishes and McIlroy looked over his midsummer blues in Akron on Sunday – he finished tied for fifth with Justin Rose – Westwood's third-round 81 and 70th-place finish in a field of 75 was not what he or his captain wanted at this point in the season.



Europe's "Big Three" have done enough already to qualify automatically while Rose, the 2010 hero Graeme McDowell and Paul Lawrie – last Ryder-capped in 1999 – and Francesco Molinari should be at Medinah as well. But that means three of Olazabal's star names still have to secure places in the three weeks left of their points race.



Martin Kaymer, world No 1 only 15 months ago, has now dropped out of the leading 20 and has just one top-10 finish since February. Sergio Garcia, cock-a-hoop when he won back-to-back tournaments late last year, seems to be searching for that spark again.They are ninth and 10th on the table.



Then there is Ian Poulter, who was inspirational in the last two Ryder Cups and is surely one of Olazabal's two wild cards if he does not climb from his current 12th place, but desperate not to have to fall back on that as his way to a fourth cap.



Padraig Harrington also remains outside the current top 10 after a 19th-place finish in Reno. The three-time major winner did not qualify for the world championship but will, of course, be at Kiawah Island trying to repeat his 2008 PGA win on the course where he and Paul McGinley lifted the World Cup for Ireland in 1997.

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