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'Donald only has himself to blame'

Bob Harig | ESPN.com
September 2, 2014
In his Ryder Cup career, Luke Donald owns a 10-4-1 record, which he will not add to this year © Getty Images
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In the end, those who are agonisingly left out by decisions such as the one announced by Paul McGinley on Tuesday have only themselves to blame.

If Luke Donald is honest - and undoubtedly he is - the Englishman knows his performance this year left his place on a fifth European Ryder Cup team vulnerable.

Donald has not won in 2014, has been in the midst of a swing change, has not posted a top-10 finish since April. Failing to advance to the third FedEx Cup playoff event could not have helped, either. It effectively means that at this stage of the season, Donald is not among the top 70 players on the PGA Tour.

And yet...

There is his 10-4-1 record in four Ryder Cup appearances, all European victories. Add in two more wins for Great Britain and Ireland over the United States in the Walker Cup, his excellence in foursomes - a difficult format - and his putting prowess.

McGinley names his wildcards

Ian Poulter has now been selected as a Ryder Cup wildcard on three occasions © Getty Images
  • Europe's Ryder Cup team is complete as captain Paul McGinley named Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Stephen Gallacher as his three captain's picks, meaning Luke Donald misses out.
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And then compare Donald to Lee Westwood, likely the last player McGinley chose over Donald, and you can see just how hard it must be for Donald to have to sit this one out.

None other than Nick Faldo - the only European captain to lose the Ryder Cup in the last 15 years - went to Twitter to say he would have taken Donald. "If Lee and Luke were a tied pick for me, I would have picked Luke," said Sir Nick. "Fab short game under pressure in probably rough weather!"

A fair point, indeed.

Westwood, 41, is a Ryder Cup warhorse and will now take part in his ninth competition when it is played in three weeks at Gleneagles in Scotland. He is 18-13-6 overall, a veteran and a leader. It would have been difficult to leave him off the squad, too. Were Donald picked, you'd have these same discussions about how difficult it was for McGinley to shun Westwood.

Of course, Westwood's form is no better than Donald's at the moment. He also failed to advance in the FedEx Cup playoffs, bowing out after the first event at the Barclays with a middling 56th-place finish and no plans to add any events prior to the Ryder Cup.

Westwood had a stretch of four straight missed cuts, including the US Open and Open Championship, and never showed much form after that, although a final-round 63 and tie for 15th at the PGA Championship appears to be the tie-breaker here.

He was seventh at the Masters and won the Malaysian Open in April, but that was a long time ago.

So McGinley was left to pick between two distinguished Ryder Cup players who have played far from their best golf this year - and he could have essentially picked the names out of a hat, because neither decision would seem right or wrong.

"It was a very, very difficult call for me to make, but it was one I had to make in the interest of the European team," McGinely said. "[Donald] was very, very disappointed, and rightly so. His last words were, 'Go Europe!' I think that says a lot about Luke."

It is difficult to fathom why Westwood was the right "call" over Donald, who would have been an excellent partner for Sergio Garcia.

McGinley, known to be meticulous and a European Tour loyalist, all but had to take Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, who very nearly made the team on his own when he finished third at the Italian Open on Sunday.

Gallacher, who will be a Ryder Cup rookie, grew up some 40 miles from Gleneagles. Having a Scot on the team certainly can't hurt. And his play seems deserving of a pick, especially if you feel it is important to reward performance on the European circuit that so dearly depends on the passion and reams of cash provided by the staging of the event on home soil.

The Scotsman won earlier this year in Dubai - outplaying Rory McIlroy in the process - and posted eight top-10 finishes on the European Tour - more than any other player - and has performed well at Gleneagles during the European Tour's stop there.

He missed the cut at the PGA Championship last month and again the following week at the Wyndham Championship, but McGinley was going to reward a European Tour man who went all out to make the team.

"I think his performance last week in Italy, under the spotlight, was huge," McGinley said. "What he did, how he did it, all credit to him."

And then, of course, there is Ian Poulter, a full-time PGA Tour player who lives in Florida but nonetheless rips out the hearts of Americans at the Ryder Cup. His performance at Medinah two years ago - he birdied the last five holes to help win a Saturday match and went undefeated for the week - is already the stuff of legend.

Poulter, however, is having the worst season of them all. He's not won for nearly two years. He's missed five cuts worldwide in 2014 and has just two top-10 finishes.

But there was no way - absolutely no way - McGinely was going to leave Poulter home. He is 12-3 in his Ryder Cup career, the event bringing out his best, almost to a level that cannot be explained. Poulter would figuratively scorch the earth surrounding his Lake Nona gated community if it involved getting a point for Europe.

"The Ryder Cup means a lot to me," Poulter said. "And I guarantee I'll be ready to perform my best." Regardless of form, it is hard to envision anything less from Poulter, which left McGinely with the brutal decision between two other countrymen, Westwood and Donald.

He also made calls of regret to Francesco Molinari -- who played in the last two Ryder Cups -- Miguel Angel Jimenez, Joost Luiten and senior stalwart Bernhard Langer. But none of those could have been as difficult as Donald, the only player among those left out who truly has a case.

How important are the captain's picks?

While the Europeans have won five of the last six Ryder Cups, the last two have been decided by the closest margin possible, 14½ to 13½.

In the end, every player has a way of making a difference when the matches are traditionally so close.

And yet, in the end, Donald knows to look in the mirror, however painful that may be.

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for ESPN.com

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