Shane Lowry moved back into contention on day two at Wentworth
A wretched Ryder Cup selection headache is developing for Padraig Harrington at Wentworth and to be frank it is all of his own making. In public the Europe captain will defend his choice to afford the BMW PGA Championship such huge significance in deciding the nine automatic berths – yet in private how he must wish that he had listened to concerns aired a few months ago.
With just this weekend remaining in the qualifying race, Bernd Wiesberger is projected to knock out Shane Lowry and leave the 2019 Open champion requiring a pick. This is despite Lowry (66), on eight-under, standing two shots clear of Wiesberger (67) at the halfway point.
It seems absurd – and probably is – but this anomaly is due the two qualifying lists. The top four on the European Points standings (ie points earned on the European Tour) qualify and then so do the top five on the World Points (ie world ranking points earned).
Wiesberger requires only a top 50 to leapfrog Rory McIlroy (who is not playing this week) in the European Points list and in that scenario, McIlroy would then get in on the world points, meaning Lowry drops out. The scenario is complicated further by the fact that Lowry could move above Lee Westwood in the world points. There are multiple other permutations as well. In fact, only five players are certain of their spots.
Yet as it stands, the three wildcards that Harrington names on Sunday evening would presumably be between Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Lowry.
Bernd Wiesberger is in the hunt for a Ryder Cup place
Credit: Getty Images
In May, Harrington told Telegraph Sport in May that “Garcia would almost need to lose a limb not to be picked” and that Poulter “is not far behind”. Both have played well since, although Poulter missed the cut at Wentworth. So it appears to be Rose v Lowry. Rose is in a tie for fourth on nine-under after a 68, three of the lead of Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat (68), who in turn is one clear on England’s Laurie Canter (66) on 11-under.
If it remains like this, who does Harrington choose?
Of course, captains have been faced with late deliberations before, but this time it could have been avoided. The problem with having such a big tournament finishing with double points is that there is much on offer that it turns into something of a free-for-all. Usually, the race ends with an event in Denmark or, say Czech Republic and there are nowhere as many points on either the European or World lists to play for and so there cannot be the potential for this amount of fluctuation.
And when one puts this alongside the fact that most of the 2020 season was deemed not to count towards qualifying, there is a live and clear danger that Harrington will end up with the form players of 2019 – and the form players of the last few weeks of 2021.
Europe captain Padraig Harrington will name his three Ryder Cup picks on Monday
Steve Stricker, the US captain, countered this by insisting on six wildcards. Harrington stuck at three, when the opportunity was there for more. It is understood the risks were put to him. The Irishman kept with his system.
The apologists will argue that at least it makes for a gripping and tense Wentworth, but is that what a captain wants at this stage? Westwood, for one, believes this is far from ideal. “The way we’ve set up the qualification this time around there are too many variables,” Westwood said after a 70 took him to four-under.
“This tournament is too heavily loaded… it’s something to look at in the future. Some of the guys turning up here don’t need this two weeks before a Ryder Cup. It is going to be draining and you want to be going into the Ryder Cup fresh.”
Even one of Harrington’s assistant captains is prepared to point out the flaws. “I’m not sure I’d have wanted as many variables if I was the captain,” Graeme McDowell said. “I’m not sure I’d have wanted so many question marks cropping up two weeks before the match. I’d liked to have had eight or nine of my guys locked in by now and let the picks get after it this week. But hey, it’s exciting stuff.”