Stephen Gallacher, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood get the nod for Ryder Cup
Other than the decision that loomed on the horizon like black thunderclouds, Monday sounded like a rather sociable and enjoyable day for European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.
He played a round of golf at Queenwood Golf Club in suburban London with assistant captains Des Smyth and Sam Torrance, then ate lunch at the club. Ensconced in a private room, the trio eyed some statistics from the 2014 season.
They each went home, showered, then reconvened for dinner. As they weighed the pros and cons of the wild-card candidates for the European team, the biggest argument might have been over who picked up the cheque.
“We were all very much along the same lines,” McGinley said.
So there were no surprises when the notification phone calls went out to players, with McGinley picking English warhorses Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, plus Ryder Cup rookie Stephen Gallacher of Scotland, to round out his roster of 12.
But then no surprises were expected. McGinley could not go wrong no matter who he selected from his shortlist. His three picks were not a fait accompli, but pretty darned close.
In the end, someone had to miss out and it was Ryder veteran and former world No 1 Luke Donald who was the last serious candidate to fail to make the side.
A moment after Northern Irishman McGinley revealed his three Ryder Cup captain’s selections that were beamed to several continents on TV, he leaned back in his chair and awaited the inquisition.
Instead, he was met by several quiet moments of crickets chirping.
“No questions?” McGinley said with a grin. “Good, that means everybody agrees with the picks, then.”
Eventually several hands from the assembled media were raised, but there was no disputing the three selections. Poulter and Westwood are long-time European anchormen and Gallacher, 39, came within a stroke of earning an automatic pick last Sunday when he finished third at the Italian Open.
Gallacher’s resolve and closing 65 in Italy grabbed the attention of McGinley, which means the two-time Dubai Desert Classic champion will play a veritable home game at Gleneagles when matches begin on September 26.
Gallacher grew up about 50 kilometres down the road.
“Of course it’s a concern to pick a [Ryder] rookie,” McGinley said. “But there’s no doubt Stephen Gallacher has earned his pick on this team.”
On the other hand, Westwood and Poulter were picked mainly on their past pedigrees. Poulter has a career Ryder record of 12-3-0 and Westwood has played in eight previous matches against the Americans.
“The Ryder Cup has always been a massive thing in my career,” Westwood said. “I breathed a sigh of relief.”
That said, Donald owns a stellar Ryder record of 10-4-1, the second-best mark behind Poulter among European players with multiple appearances. In a year when Westwood and Donald each performed well below their usual standards, McGinley said Westwood played fractionally better over the summer.
“Yeah, very difficult,” McGinley said. “Two former No 1s, not a lot between them, to be honest. Basically, it came down to the form between the two players.”
With US captain Tom Watson set to announce his three wild-card picks late last night, Westwood stood as the lowest-ranked player on either team at world No 38.
Westwood won in Malaysia earlier this year, an event with such a spartan field he only moved up six spots in the world ranking. The former world No 1 did, however, finish in the top 15 at the Masters, PGA Championship and Players Championship.
Gallacher, whose family has a Ryder pedigree, has been the best of the trio in 2014, winning in Dubai in February. His uncle, Bernhard Gallacher, was a Ryder regular who captained the team three times. Gallacher joins fellow Ryder rookies Victor Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson, the 2013 winner in Abu Dhabi, on the team.
The Europeans will be huge favourites, especially playing on home soil. The Americans have not won an overseas Ryder Cup since 1993 and, overall, have hoisted the cup only once in the past 15 years.
McGinley said Francesco Molinari and Joost Luiten were also in the wild-card discussion. But clearly, Donald was the last cut, the 13th man, and “wasn’t expecting it”, McGinley said of his notification phone call.
Donald, whose first Ryder Cup shot was hit with McGinley as his playing partner, somehow swallowed his disappointment and left the captain with a heartening parting comment.
“His last two words were, ‘Go, Europe’,” McGinley said.
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Updated: September 2, 2014 04:00 AM