Has Harrington earned a Ryder wild card?
Published 24/08/2010 | 05:00
COREY PAVIN isn't the only man being given a Ryder Cup headache by his most accomplished player.
European skipper Colin Montgomerie has been placed in an equally difficult situation by three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington ... not forgetting Luke Donald and Paul Casey.
At least the troubled Tiger fought to the last for his place on the US team.
Harrington, Donald and Casey made their priorities clear when they opted out of the final European Ryder Cup qualifier at Gleneagles this week to play at The Barclays, the first of the US PGA Tour's FedEx Cup play-offs.
How their attitude differs to that of gallant Swede Peter Hanson, who sought an invite to last week's Czech Open and then forced his way into the Ryder Cup reckoning with a fantastic sudden-death victory over Peter Lawrie and England's Gary Boyd on Sunday.
Simon Dyson also deserves credit for a madcap dash by plane, train and automobile from the US PGA to the Czech Republic, where a fifth-place finish helped rekindle his prospects of making the Ryder Cup team.
Dyson is one of three players who can force their way into the top nine in the European Ryder Cup rankings at Gleneagles this weekend. The other two are Englishman Ross McGowan and Spain's Alvaro Quiros.
Dyson or Quiros must win to displace Miguel Angel Jimenez from the team, while McGowan has not played well enough recently to inspire confidence in his chances of claiming the top-two finish he needs.
Edoardo Molinari definitely requires a captain's pick and the Italian's case is strengthened by his victory in July's Scottish Open and the fact that his younger brother, Francesco, with whom he won the World Cup last November, is already in the side.
If there's any justice, Molinari will get a wild card, with the FedEx Gang of Four -- Rose, Harrington, Casey and Donald -- left to sweat it out with Dyson or Quiros for the final couple of berths on the team at Celtic Manor. Yet fair play is unlikely to come into it. The European skipper's priority is to win back the Ryder Cup and that's why Harrington is a strong odds-on favourite to get Monty's call.
Justin Rose, too far back in the rankings to have any chance of making the team even if he played the Czech Open and at Gleneagles, heads the queue for a wild card after two prestigious victories and a second place on the PGA Tour elevated him to fifth in the FedEx Cup rankings entering the play-offs.
Harrington is next in the pecking order. Who do you think Monty's likely to pick if it boils down to a head-to-head between his old pal and triple-Major champion Harrington and the gifted rookie Molinari?
Should Harrington get a Ryder Cup wild card?
Five reasons why Monty's odds-on to hand Harrington a wild card:
1 Three Major titles have established Harrington as the greatest European golfer of his generation. Currently, Rose, Casey, Donald, Edoardo Molinari and Dyson are pressing Harrington hardest for one of three captain's picks and none of them holds a candle to the Dubliner when it comes to his achievements and status in the game.
2 Having played in the last five Ryder Cups, Harrington is second only to Lee Westwood in terms of experience among the current crop, and with five rookies currently among the nine automatic qualifiers, this is significant. While he won just one point from nine matches at the K Club in 2006 and Valhalla in 2008, there's nobody in golf you'd trust more than Harrington to sink a putt under pressure. He revels in such situations.
3 He hasn't won on Tour since the 2008 US PGA but Harrington proved in finishing second at the recent '3' Irish Open that he still possesses an ingenious short game. For this reason, Harrington will be feared by anyone he takes on, especially on Sunday. He lost in singles at the K Club (Scott Verplank) and Valhalla (Chad Campbell) but won on Sunday at Brookline '99 (Mark O'Meara), The Belfry '02 (Mark Calcavecchia) and Oakland Hills '04 (Jim Furyk).
4 Montgomerie has a powerful back-room team in Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley ... yet, among the 12 players, he couldn't ask for a closer ally and confidant than Harrington, his former Ryder Cup playing partner. They've known good days together, not least their crucial victory over Hal Sutton's 'Dream Team' of Woods and Phil Mickelson in the pipe-opener at Oakland Hills. Friendships forged under fire aren't easily broken ... and Harrington has spoken at length with Monty about his situation.
5 The controversial decision by Harrington to play The Barclays this week and not Gleneagles suggests making the Ryder Cup isn't life-or-death to him. This is good, especially considering his failure to live up to his own lofty expectations at recent Majors. While his poor display at Valhalla could be attributed to fatigue, the Dubliner plainly was weighed down by great expectations at the K Club in 2006. Harrington is at his finest when he just goes out and plays.
Five reasons why Monty might leave Harrington at home:
1 After showing the potential to become one of the greatest players in history by winning three out of six Majors in 13 months, Harrington tinkered with his swing but lost it. Though the pursuit of perfection never ends for golf's elite, Harrington was never going to improve on Birkdale or Oakland Hills. Instead, he lost consistency and confidence and, arguably, needs a pick now because he's not the player he was.
2 After saying he'd be "gutted" and "devastated" not to play in the Ryder Cup, Harrington made nonsense of those words by opting not to try and play his way onto the team in the Czech Open last weekend and Gleneagles this week. No matter how well Ian Poulter did at Valhalla, he should not have received a wild card after skipping the final qualifying event two years ago and, morally, it's almost as hard to justify a pick for Harrington, Casey, Donald and Rose now.
3 When Harrington, Rose, Casey and Donald decided they'd skip Europe's final two qualifiers and stay in the US for The Barclays, they left Monty with no option but to row back on his warning that Ryder Cup contenders would be advised to turn up at Gleneagles. With three wild cards on offer, two or even three members of the Gang of Four could be disappointed if the captain takes exception to having his hand forced in this way.
4 Fatigue hampered Harrington at Valhalla in 2008, which came so soon after his back-to-back victories at the Majors. Yet has his evolution into one of the most formidable grinders in golf left him less well equipped for the cut and thrust of match play? One point (a half in foursomes with McGinley in 2006 and another with Robert Karlsson at Valhalla) represents a paltry return from nine matches in Harrington's last two Ryder Cups.
5 One might expect Harrington to play a commanding role in the back room. Yet the Dubliner is the first to admit that tub-thumping or rousing speeches are not in his nature. For sure, he will offer plenty of sound advice and good example, but his 'experience' in winning 8.5 points out of 21 at five Ryder Cups is not as persuasive, perhaps, as the case for including the in-form Edoardo Molinari, who could form a formidable partnership with his brother, Francesco.