Saturday 25 October 2014

Why Padraig Harrington's right for Ryder Cup vice-captaincy

Grooming of Dublin's three-time Major champion for Euro captaincy should begin at Gleneagles

Karl McGinty

Published 26/08/2014 | 02:30

Flashback to September 2004: Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley celebrate after beating Tiger Woods and Daviod Love in foursomes at the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Flashback to September 2004: Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley celebrate after beating Tiger Woods and Daviod Love in foursomes at the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Amid the euphoria stirred by Europe's 'Miracle at Medinah', few could have imagined imperious Ian Poulter and his exalted fellow Englishmen Lee Westwood and Luke Donald needing a captain's pick to make the next Ryder Cup.

Whatever happened these likely lads to leave them outside the pale and give European captain Paul McGinley food for thought?

Still, McGinley's options appear relatively straightforward.

Even if Poulter lost a leg, he'd be a shoo-in for Gleneagles. One can only imagine the boost it would give to Tom Watson's US side if this wild-eyed firebrand is omitted when the wild cards are dispensed at Wentworth next Tuesday.

Westwood also is a must. One whiff of the cordite in Scotland and a few inspirational words from McGinley should have him back at his bulldog best. The Dubliner in the past has made no secret of his admiration for the fighting qualities the feisty Englishman brings with him to the locker room.

Donald therefore appears the most likely fall guy as Stephen Gallacher presses hard for an opportunity to play in front of his home crowd. The mind-bending desire to play at Gleneagles has impacted on Gallacher's game in recent months, while it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a Scot in the side.

Of course, he can still make the team on his own steam. The precise world ranking points on offer at this week's final counting event, the Italian Open, have yet to be determined but if Gallacher finishes top-two in Turin he'll knock Graeme McDowell off the team.

Should G-Mac need a pick, he'll get one. June's French Open winner is one tough dude, just the man you need in a tight Ryder Cup corner.

Even more intriguing are McGinley's options as he considers the candidates for his two remaining vice-captains. If a continental is required, EurAsia team skipper Miguel Angel Jimenez would be the obvious choice, while David Howell's name has been whispered in some circles.

While not stipulated in the assistant's job remit, several Ryder Cup captains, including McGinley himself, benefited from the insight that being an assistant gives. So the time certainly is right to call Padraig Harrington to arms alongside Sam Torrance and Des Smyth.

McGinley and Harrington, former Ryder Cup, Seve Trophy and World Cup-winning partners, know and trust each other implicitly. As a three-time Major champion, Harrington, 43 on Sunday, will be European captain in the near future, either at Hazeltine in 2016 or in Paris two years later.

As for the players, it'll require a Lazarus-like recovery by Donald at the Deutsche Bank this weekend to clean his slate. It's chilling how far his star has fallen since those heady days of 2011 when he leapt to World No 1 and became the first player to top the money list in Europe and the US in the same season.

Donald's decision last August to change from his mentor of 16 years, Pat Goss, to Jason Dufner's swing coach, Chuck Cook, did not produce the desired results at the Majors.

As confidence dipped, his fabled short game and scrambling also suffered, while Donald's putting, for so long a staple of his game, went badly awry last Friday.

He counted 35 putts, including three three-putts, among the 75 strokes which caused the 37-year-old to miss the cut in New Jersey. Already short, recent inconsistencies in Donald's game make him a poor fit for Gleneagles.

Angst

As his body clock, at 42, ticks loudly at the Majors, drastic efforts by Westwood to gain a winning edge in the Grand Slam arena yielded more angst than achievement. Moving lock, stock and family across to Miami in Christmas 2012 was brave, but a short-lived decision to replace coach Pete Cowen with Sean Foley was ill-judged.

Westwood won in Malaysia in April but a string of four missed cuts in high summer, including the US and British Opens, showed his game was out of kilter.

Yet green shoots appeared at Bridgestone and the PGA, while a sparkling run down the stretch last Sunday was timely as he's not in the field in Boston this week.

Poulter has been hampered by a spate of injuries and mishaps during the most frustrating year of his career, while his performance stats have been sickly. Second in scrambling in the US in 2012, he's down to 83rd now, a significant decline for a player at 161st in Greens in Regulation. Once at the Ryder Cup, however, Poulter becomes the Incredible Hulk.

 

New dad G-Mac looks to fresh horizons

News of Graeme McDowell's intention to quit Horizon at year's end and the announcement of Tiger Woods' split after three years from coach Sean Foley made it clear that few things in sport or life are permanent.

Then McDowell's joyful announcement on Twitter that his wife Kristin had given birth to their baby daughter in Orlando provided sweet confirmation that some bonds indeed last forever: "Thanks so much for all the well wishes. Mum and baby girl are happy and healthy. Happiest moment of my life hands down, #daddy #love."

That memorable moment when he cradled the US Open trophy at Pebble Beach in 2010 had been bumped into a distant second.

Pebble Beach was the highlight of McDowell's seven-year relationship with Horizon, who then were propelled to a new level in the sport when Rory McIlroy joined in 2011.

Eighteen months later, he left to set up Rory McIlroy Inc under circumstances which have grown so acrimonious that they're likely to go to the Four Courts in February. In contrast, as they announced his departure in December, McDowell and Horizon publicly celebrated seven years of mutual development.

Professional golf has fostered enormously successful businessmen, like Greg Norman and Gary Player. McDowell has shown similar acumen as he invested in a series of projects and, of course, set up the hugely successful G-Mac charitable foundation.

As McDowell seeks to evolve and move on, Horizon will be left with two golfers, Shane Lowry and Ross Fisher, but no long-term strategy will be planned until after February's court case.

Tiger signalled his split with Foley on his website: "Presently I don't have a coach and there's no timetable for hiring one."

 

Going to Denver makes horse sense for McIlroy

Wild horses couldn't keep Rory McIlroy away from the upcoming BMW Championship. In fact, they helped persuade him to play in Colorado.

Waving away mention of fatigue following his 22nd-place finish on five-under at The Barclays, nine behind spectacular winner Hunter Mahan, McIlroy insisted he'd compete in all four FedEx Cup play-offs.

Though he briefly considered skipping next week's BMW, a chance to watch the Denver Broncos entertain the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday week helped make up his mind to play.

After his hat-trick of victories at the Open, the Bridgestone and the US PGA , World No 1 McIlroy (25) came back down with a bump.

"I was thinking about it (taking a breather after this week's Deutsche Bank) but you know what, I feel fine. I feel fresh and have no problem about playing a lot of golf," he said, happy with just a week off between next month's Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup.

"One of the reasons why I want to go to Denver as well is to see the Broncos play the Colts that Sunday night in the first game of the season," he admitted.

Relishing Friday's tee-off at TPC Boston, where he he won in 2012, McIlroy said: "The only thing that let me down (in New Jersey) was my putting. I'll work on that and, hopefully, it'll be a different story next weekend."

Mahan is odds-on for one of Tom Watson's Ryder Cup wild cards next Tuesday.

Irish Independent

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