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Assessing Europe's Ryder Cup wildcard options

Alex Perry
August 31, 2014
Who will be joining Paul McGinley in Europe's bid to retain the Ryder Cup? © Getty Images
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We have our nine qualifiers for the European Ryder Cup team: Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn and Graeme McDowell.

But spare a thought for Stephen Gallacher, who finished third at the Italian Open - just a single shot short of the second place he needed to book a spot at Gleneagles.

Gallacher will instead require one of Paul McGinley's three captain's picks - but he's in some esteemed company, with Ryder Cup stalwarts Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald also relying on a wildcard.

Following the Italian Open, McGinley revealed that these four and Francesco Molinari are all in the running, adding: "Outside those five it will be very unlikely". So goodbye to fanciful talk of seniors Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie suddenly making the cut.

With all that considered, let's run the rule over the quintet of players from which McGinley's picks will come.

Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia have formed quite the partnership over the years © Getty Images
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Luke Donald


Ryder Cup record: Played 15, Won 10, Halved 1, Lost 4 (10.5 points)

Season highlight: Just three years ago, Donald became the first player to win the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic. How quickly things can change in this sport. After having the best seat in the house to watch Rose win last year's US Open, Donald decided changes were needed and, working with a new swing coach, he has gone from being Mr Consistency to somewhat erratic. But he has only missed four cuts this season, and has four top-10s, including a tie for third at the BMW PGA Championship and a second-place finish at the RBC Heritage.

Reasons for a pick: Ten-and-a-half points from 15 is a bold record and the 36-year-old is a proven performer in golf's biggest team event. Donald boasts a 75% win rate in the tricky foursomes format, as well as three wins from four singles matches.

Reason to leave him at home: Donald's game has undergone a lot of changes since the last Ryder Cup and it has shown in his ability to compete at the absolute peak of his game.

ESPN verdict: Donald provides a reliable choice for McGinley - is reliability what he's after? If so, the Englishman is in luck.

Stephen Gallacher missed out on qualifying by just a single point © Getty Images
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Stephen Gallacher


Ryder Cup record: Possible debutant.

Season highlight: Gallacher was straight out the blocks at the beginning of the year when he retained his Dubai Desert Classic title - his third European Tour title. One victory and seven further top-10s in 18 starts ended with a third-place at the Italian Open that proved to be too little, too late.

Reasons for a pick: Gallacher is a Scot and was born just half an hour from Gleneagles. But is local knowledge enough? Darren Clarke won three from three at the K Club in 2006, but Padraig Harrington earned just half a point from a possible five, so read into that what you will. Gallacher's record at Gleneagles works in his favour - he has seven top-10s there since the turn of the millennium.

Reason to leave him at home: In Dubuisson and Donaldson, McGinley already has two rookies in his squad.

ESPN verdict: Any other year you would have to say Gallacher was a no-brainer, but the fact that three Ryder Cup stalwarts failed to qualify outright will see the Scot miss out.

Francesco Molinari earned the half a point that won the Ryder Cup for Europe in 2012 © Getty Images
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Francesco Molinari


Ryder Cup record: Played 6, Won 0, Halved 2, Lost 4 (1 point)

Season highlight: Molinari enjoyed a good spell in the middle of the season, finishing fourth in China and tied-sixth at the Players Championship before a seventh-placed finish at Wentworth was followed by a decent showings at the US Open, Open Championship and Bridgestone Invitational.

Reasons for a pick: The likeable Italian has had a good season on Tour and qualified for the last two Ryder Cups outright.

Reason to leave him at home: Molinari earned the half point against Tiger Woods that completed the Miracle at Medinah two years ago, but his record of four defeats from six is, quite simply, not good enough.

ESPN verdict: Nope. Not a chance.

Ian Poulter was Europe's hero at Medinah © Getty Images
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Ian Poulter


Ryder Cup record: Played 15, Won 12, Halved 0, Lost 3 (12 points)

Season highlight: Poulter's best finish came in the very first tournament of the new wrap-around season - a second place at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November. Having ended last season in blistering form, it looked set to finally be Poulter's year at the majors. But 2014 rolled around and the enigmatic Englishman has recorded just two top 10s - the St Jude Classic and China Open.

Reasons for a pick: Poulter's Ryder Cup record speaks for itself. Nick Faldo was pilloried for picking him in 2008, but he proved to be a rare positive in a largely forgettable tournament for the European team. Since then, Poulter has gone on to win seven of his eight matches, including the point late on Saturday night that kick-started Europe's stunning comeback at Medinah, where he was the only player to finish with a 4-and-0 record.

Reason to leave him at home: Poulter's form is a concern. Since his tie for 17th at the US Open - his best finish at a major this year - he has gone missed cut, missed cut, T52, T58, missed cut.

ESPN verdict: Despite his form, this is the man who is the embodiment of what the Ryder Cup is all about. A banker for Gleneagles.

Lee Westwood's made his Ryder Cup debut in 1997 © Getty Images
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Lee Westwood


Ryder Cup record: Played 37, Won 18, Halved 6, Lost 13 (21 points)

Season highlight: Westwood loves playing in Asia and so it proved again in April when he won the Malaysian Open - though admittedly against a weak field. A week previous, the Englishman had put in another solid showing at The Masters, where he finished in seventh - his sixth straight finish inside the top-11 at Augusta.

Reasons for a pick: A veteran of eight matches dating back to 1997, Westwood would bring a wealth of experience and a good record to the European team.

Reason to leave him at home: Westwood has cut a forlorn figure on the golf course this year, punctuated by a run of four missed cuts from the St Jude Classic to the Open Championship, via the US and Scottish Opens.

ESPN verdict: Westwood has shown glimpses of his former self in recent weeks, including a final-round 63 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational that saw him claim a top-20 spot. It would take a massive call from McGinley to leave him out and, for that reason, we think he will be in.

Will McGinley agree with our choices? Find out on Tuesday when the Irishman announces his three wildcards.

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