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Garcia's Ryder Cup place good for Europe - bad for him?

ESPN staff
August 21, 2012
Sergio Garcia's win is great news for Europe © PA Photos
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Sergio Garcia's qualification for the Ryder Cup news is great news for Europe - and particularly great news for team captain Jose Maria Olazabal. In effect, it means he now only has one wildcard selection left to make.

As unlikely as it may initially sound, Garcia was probably not guaranteed a wildcard from his compatriot if he had remained outside the automatic spots - while Ian Poulter, the man he dumped out of the top ten, is about as sure of getting the call as any man can possibly be.

The Englishman simply has to be at Medinah - even if, for the second time in a row, he has basically turned his back on the relatively straightforward chance to qualify automatically for the team in order to chase greater personal riches on the PGA Tour.

Poulter can afford to do that, though - his influence on the Ryder Cup over the last few iterations (and overall matchplay record) is such that leaving him out, even to make a point about his ultimately rather self-indulgent approach to qualification, would be nothing more than cutting off the nose to spite the face.

Garcia, however, was not assured a wildcard by any means - his form in the past year, along with his on-course demeanour, has slumped noticeably and worryingly from the high water-mark of back-to-back European Tour wins at the tail-end of last year.

Now he is one the team, however, Garcia's presence is a huge boost. The Spaniard has the best European record of all-time in the competition of those who have played in more than 15 ties - 14 wins, six defeats and four halves - and is an invaluable option for Olazabal to have.

Pair him with Luke Donald or Rory McIlroy, two of his closest friends in the game, in either foursomes or fourballs, and you have a nigh-on unbeatable pairing.

"It's great, definitely a double satisfaction," Garcia said, after his win at the Wyndham Championship on Monday secured his Ryder Cup place. "You know, I think there were a lot of things going on.

"This will secure my spot in the Ryder Cup team. And winning is always nice. So, you know, it means quite a bit."

An appearance in golf's greatest team competition brings with it some dangers for Garcia, however. His trawl through golf's wilderness over the last few years can be traced back almost precisely to his last Ryder Cup singles appearance - when he was eviscerated by a young Anthony Kim at Oakland Hills in 2008.

Garcia - having won one of his four previous singles encounters in the competition - was asked to lead out the side by then-captain Sir Nick Faldo, with Kim - arrogant, but erratic - expected to provide only a limited threat. But, after an opening three holes of exhilarating golf from both players, Garcia was blown away by the American, suffering a 6&5 defeat that felt even more brutal.

"I've played with him a couple of times before and I know what he's capable of," Garcia said at the time. "There were a couple of misses on seven that were huge, and after that the short miss on 11 put the dagger in.

"It was a hard day - he played awesome and it's hard when you get in this sort of situation. I felt like I couldn't get anything going today."

His comments were measured, but the body language - from around the sixth onwards - told a different story. Kim broke Garcia - a notoriously fragile player, and one still recovering from two major heartbreaks in the last 12 months - on that day, and it has taken him four years to finally crawl back to near the level he once was.

Garcia had the game to win a major in 2011, but didn't have the confidence. Since last year's US PGA, a more confident Garcia has arguably played at a slightly lower level, but has managed to win three times.

"It was great week but I can definitely still play better," Garcia said of his first win on US soil for four years. "I hit a lot of good shots but I wasn't going full out. There's still some shots that I need to get better at."

Where four years ago the Ryder Cup sent him spiralling backwards, maybe this time it will propel him on to finally win that major his talent and career so richly deserve.

But the fear is it might only knock him back, just when he appears to have found his best once again.

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