Wednesday 25 April 2018

No old pals act for McGinley

Ryder Cup skipper tells Harrington 'give me a reason to pick you'

Paul McGinley
Paul McGinley

Karl MacGinty

FEW were more delighted than Paul McGinley to see Padraig Harrington figure prominently at the climax to the Volvo Golf Champions.

So it gives full measure to the Irishman's unswerving commitment to his role as European captain that even his close pal, fellow Dub and former playing partner Harrington, knows he must play his way onto the European team at Gleneagles next September.

Chatting to McGinley in Abu Dhabi yesterday on the first anniversary of his appointment, it was clear that the 45-year-old will allow nothing to stand in the way of his passionate quest for victory at the home of golf.

"I will be making my decisions from a European Team perspective. It's all about the strength of my team and not from any other perspective," insisted the captain, confirming that he would leave friendship and his Irish nationality at the locker-room door.

"That's what I have to do as a Ryder Cup captain. My decisions will be evidence-based and if Padraig, Shane (Lowry) or anyone else is going to be a pick, they must show the evidence.

GREAT

"Padraig had a great result last week. I was pleased to see how well he played and, of course, I'd love to see him in my team.

"I don't want to put pressure on him, so I'm not going to say anything about Padraig's game as he knows his game and what he's capable of better than anybody.

"He had a great week last week. I know he's motivated to make the team, and I know he's still real excited about his career, and I'd love to see him pushing on from his great start to the season.

"So keep pushing on, keep pushing on. Give me a reason to pick you," added McGinley, who says Harrington's three Major titles and wealth of Ryder Cup experience will make a compelling case for selection if complemented by results and form.

Harrington goes into today's first round of the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship hoping to build on the promise of that fifth-place finish in Durban last Sunday.

Like Rory McIlroy, who is bookies' favourite this week, Harrington knows how to go low on arguably the most challenging course in the Arabian Gulf and can take a telling step towards redemption with a confidence-boosting performance here.

It requires much more than victory in Abu Dhabi to propel him back into the Ryder Cup reckoning. Indeed, the 43-year-old himself reckons he would probably have to win a fourth Major title to clinch an automatic place.

"I'm in a tough position to make this team, no doubt," he conceded. "I'm well behind the eight-ball at best. I've no points up and I'm not in the Masters or US Open or any of the big World Golf Championship events.

"I probably have more chance of winning a Major than making the Ryder Cup team this year ... though if I did win a Major, it'd put me right into that position."

Yet Harrington, hitting the ball as straight, long and true as at any other time in his career and, judging by his first outing of the year in South Africa, at last getting some traction around and on the green, has not given up hope of a sixth Ryder Cup outing in Scotland.

His playing schedule this summer, for example, will be based on his hopes of building a loud and persuasive case for his selection in the big Open tournaments in the European heartland.

"I'm trying hard," he insisted. "I'm going to play Wentworth and the Irish Open and certainly will make an effort to go to the French and Scottish Opens before Hoylake in a bid to get me more of the spotlight.

"Sometimes you can play well in the States and not be seen, whereas if I put some form out there in those marquee events in Europe I could get myself noticed. So, hopefully, that's what I'll do."

Missing the cut in Abu Dhabi last year was a harbinger for McIlroy's most frustrating season but, boosted by last month's Australian Open win and buoyed by 10 days of fruitful work with coach Michael Bannon, he may be ready to fulfil the promise of several top-notch performances here.

"It's a golf course that has always suited my eye," said McIlroy. "I've always done well here -- I had a couple of chances to win and Martin Kaymer was just too good those times. It's a long course and I've got to hit it well off the tee to take advantage of the par-fives, which I feel I can do."

Still, Sweden's FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai double-winner, Henrik Stenson, indisputedly, is the form horse this week.

Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia's morale is high after his recent win in Thailand; Irish Open champion Paul Casey has a spring in his step and high profile visitor Phil Mickelson still sups pure confidence from the Claret Jug.

Yet, Irish hopes rest on McIlroy and, whisper it, maybe even a resurgent Harrington.

HSBC ABU DHABI CHAMPIONSHIP,

LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 6.0AM

HUMANA CHALLENGE,

LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 8.0PM

Irish Independent

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