Europe captain Padraig Harrington has warned players seeking a wildcard for next month’s Ryder Cup that it will be a huge risk if they opt to skip the last qualifying tournament at Wentworth in two weeks’ time.
“I want to say to players, if you’re interested in playing [at the Ryder Cup] then come [to the BMW PGA Championship] and show me the form,” Harrington told Telegraph Sport. “If you are interested in a pick and decide to sit at home, you will be taking some chance.”
The players have until noon on Thursday to enter the European Tour’s flagship event and, while the likes of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose have already committed, it will be interesting to see if Sergio Garcia is on the list when it is released on Friday.
In May, Harrington said in an interview with Telegraph Sport that the Spaniard would “nearly need to lose a limb” to miss out on one of his three captain’s picks But despite Harrington’s admiration for the Cup’s all-time record points scorer, he will evidently expect Garcia to play at the West Course for the first time in seven years, unless he can force his way into the automatic top nine places.
And considering Garcia is 16th in the standings and on a poor run of form – falling to world No 55, his lowest ranking in more than a decade – the chances of the 41-year-old making it to Whistling Straits by right appear unlikely indeed.
That will make Wentworth a must, although Garcia might think back and recall Harrington’s own actions in the build-up to the 2010 match. The then captain, Colin Montgomerie, instructed Europe’s top pros to return to their home circuit and play at Gleneagles in that year’s concluding qualifying event.
Along with Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Donald, Harrington elected to disobey Montgomerie and compete in the PGA Tour play-offs instead.
As it turned out, Montgomerie picked Harrington as one of his three wildcards anyway, but both Rose and, famously Casey, the then world No 7, paid the price and were overlooked for Edoardo Molinari. Harrington claims this to be a different scenario.
“That was against the FedEx [Cup, the PGA Tour play-offs],” Harrington said. “This is not against the FedEx. There’s plenty of scope.
“Wentworth is a big tournament, there’s pressure to play well there and it’s the right style of course. Look, the player who turns up there and shows form…well, that’s hardly going to go away in two weeks is it? That’s my thinking. A player picked a month early, you don’t know what is going to happen.”
As the clock counts down, Harrington will not only be concerned about Garcia’s game. At least the 2017 Masters champion is in the top 70 on the FedEx standings who advanced to the BMW Championship that starts on Thursday in Maryland.
Three of Europe’s top nine crashed out early – Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood. In contrast, the top 20 on the US standings all went through, although Patrick Reed is absent with pneumonia.
America’s statistical superiority is starkly stated in the rankings. There is only one European in the world’s top 10 – and eight Americans. Compare this to the 2018 match when the ratio was 4-6; or 2016 when it was 3-4; or 2014 when it was 4-3; or 2012 when it was 5-4 – or 2010 when it was 4-4. In fact, there has never been a ratio anything like 1-8 since the rankings were incepted in 1986.
In truth, it has been a wretched 2021 for the blue and gold cause. Of the 11 Europeans in the top 50, only Rahm, Casey and Lee Westwood are ranked higher now than they were at the start of 2021 – and Westwood has not enjoyed a top 20 in more than five months.
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy has slipped to world No 16, his worst ranking in almost 12 years. As he tries to cling on in the top 30 who will progress to next week’s Tour Championship (he is 28th), McIlroy joked on Wednesday that he threw his three-wood on to a nearby freeway during last week’s event in New York.
“Actually I did not make the road – if someone wants to find the club it will still be in the trees,” he said. This is the last thing Harrington needs to hear.
Granted, the Ryder Cup is unlike any other arena in the game and strokeplay form can go out of the clubhouse window. But with no away fans crossing the Atlantic to provide emotional support, Harrington could do with a collective uplift from his men and not simply have to rely on Rahm.