Monday 27 March 2017

Irish pair want Harrington to go on auto pilot for Ryder Cup

Bernie McGuire in Akron, Ohio

Padraig Harrington practising in Akron yesterday ahead of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational which starts today.
Padraig Harrington practising in Akron yesterday ahead of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational which starts today.

Three certain members of this year's European Ryder Cup side -- Irishmen Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, along with England's Ian Poulter -- have stressed the importance of Padraig Harrington qualifying automatically for the Celtic Manor team.

Harrington is just one place outside of breaking into the list of the nine leading qualifiers and he can lock in a sixth straight appearance with a good showing either in today's starting WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio or next week's US PGA Championship in Wisconsin.

Helped by his second-place finish last week in Killarney, Harrington is now 55,000 points adrift of qualifying automatically and that equates to a top-20 finish this week here on the Firestone Country Club course.

And given Harrington's dramatic second place a year ago, there's every chance of the Dubliner delivering Colin Montgomerie one of the last remaining jig-saw pieces in his eventual European Team make-up.

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McDowell will play the opening two rounds of this week's $8.5m event in the company of Harrington and he's certain to lend his support to Harrington's Celtic Manor cause.

"When I was asked about Padraig at St Andrews he wasn't a realistic pick at that precise second in time because he wasn't showing much form," said McDowell.

"But it's a different story now. Padraig had a good week last week and these are the two weeks when he generally plays well.

"We want him in the team and we need him on the team. I see there is no way he will not be in the side now. I seriously doubt it."

McIlroy, who tees up today in the company of reigning US Masters winner Phil Mickelson, supports McDowell's remarks.

"It would be huge for Europe if Padraig were to qualify automatically and not have to rely on a pick," said McIlroy. "His Ryder Cup record has not been great, but just to have him in the team room will be invaluable, not only to the likes of me and the other rookies like Martin Kaymer, but just for everyone to have someone like him to go to for advice and so on.

"So, whether he plays his way into the team or not, I expect him to be in the team.

"Actually, Monty has a very tough task to choose three guys and I would not want the job because he will be leaving out guys who could be great in a Ryder Cup side."

Poulter long ago secured himself a third European Team cap with victory in January's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, thus avoiding any of the controversy surrounding his 2008 selection.

And the 34-year-old, who won four of five matches at Valhalla, also knows the worth of again having Harrington as a team-mate.

"Padraig's experience of playing in the Ryder Cup is huge," said Poulter.

"He's a gutsy character, but then if you looked at his record in the last two Ryder Cups he would be the first to admit he hasn't played all that well.

"But, aside from that, I don't think there is any player in the American side who would want to play against him because you know you are going to be in a golf match.

"He's a grinder and he will grind out a score and he will wear you down."

McIlroy leads out the Irish competing this week in Ohio and tees up today at 2.50pm (Irish time), while Harrington and McDowell will tee up at 7.0pm (Irish time).

Meanwhile, Italy's Edoardo Molinari has linked up with Irish caddy Colin Byrne in an effort to join his brother, Francesco, in this year's Ryder Cup side. The current world No 36th-ranked Molinari, who is five places outside qualifying for the Ryder Cup, split with his last caddy who helped earn him five wins over the past two years, including July's Barclays Scottish Open.

Byrne has worked for Swede Alex Noren for the past few years and helped him to success in the very first event of the 2010 Ryder Cup qualifying process -- the 2009 European Masters.

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