BERNARD Gallacher, a Ryder Cup-winning captain in 1995, believes Paul McGinley’s European team is shaping up nicely for next year’s match at Gleneagles.
He is also confident there is plenty of time for a Scot to force his way into contention, even though Craig Lee, lying 22nd, is currently the highest-placed home player on the European points list.
Henrik Stenson, the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai winner, has already secured his place on the team, while Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter is also sitting in one of the automatic spots at present along with Sergio Garcia and the experienced Thomas Bjorn.
With US Open champion Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy also up near the top of the Ryder Cup ranking lists, Gallacher reckons things are shaping up nicely for McGinley, the first Irishman to be handed the European captaincy.
“The guys who won the big money in the Final Series are the ones you’d want in the team – Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose,” said the man who played in eight Ryder Cups then served as Tony Jacklin’s right-hand man before leading Europe in three matches himself.
“So, if I was captain, I would think the end of the season went very well in that respect because those are the guys you want in position. You don’t want these guys chasing too much at the start of the year and certainly not having to rely on a wild card.”
Garcia, who missed out on the 2010 team in Wales before securing his return to one of the game’s biggest stages as part of the winning team at Medinah last year, is back in the world’s top ten after signing off his 2013 campaign with an impressive victory in the Thailand Golf Championship.
His girlfriend, Katharina Boehm, caddied for him in that event, and Gallacher admitted it was nice to see the Spaniard back playing with a smile on his face.
“Sergio is doing really well,” noted the Scot. “The big difference now is that he’s putting well. He has always been a great player but the difference between winning a major and not has been that he was not so hot on the greens as the other guys.
“Now, with his new claw-style putting stroke, he is holing putts and turned a weakness into a strength. He looks happy off the course too. I know he was affected by the break-up of his relationship with Greg Norman’s daughter but he looks happy now and that’s crucial.”
In comparison to the likes of Frenchman Victor Dubisson, it was a disappointing Final Series for the Scots, leaving Stephen Gallacher, Bernard’s nephew, 34th on the European points list for the Ryder Cup and Paul Lawrie 70th.
But, with lots of big-money events still to come between now and the end of the qualifying race at the Italian Open next August, the former Wentworth professional is hopeful McGinley will have at least one Scot in his ranks in Perthshire.
“If you win one event, suddenly you are looking at making the team,” he insisted. “So, whatever position the Scots are in, if they can win a tournament in the first half of the year they are in the running because that’s €700,000 right away. The money is so big.
“Paul is an Open champion and he has played so well in the two Ryder Cups he has been involved in. His win over Brandt Snedeker in the singles at Medinah was the catalyst for the comeback because he won it so early.
“It was a big blue point on the board when the rest were all out there fighting. That can inspire your team and place a seed of doubt in the Americans. Snedeker was one of their best players and suddenly he’s lost 5 and 4.
“I don’t think Paul will rely on a wild card so you would be looking for him to play well next year and, if it came to dishing out wild cards, then he is one of those I would pick.
“Stephen is also doing everything he can to make the team. He’s working hard on his game but so are a lot of people and he’s just got to win his way on – there’s no other way.
“Bathgate, of course, has such a strong history of the Ryder Cup through Eric Brown and myself and, with Stephen having started at Bathgate, he really wants to make the team. But that’s good pressure because he’ll want to improve and that kind of motivation is good for his game.”
Good for the Americans, according to Gallacher, is the appointment of Tom Watson as their captain, the five-times Open champion having been handed the task of improving a record that has yielded just two wins in the last nine encounters.
“It has been a master stroke from the PGA of America,” insisted Gallacher. “After their disappointment at Medinah they didn’t want the American public to be switching off and I don’t think you could have picked a better guy to keep the interest high than Tom.
“Also, being captain in Scotland is great because he is so well liked here having done so well. It keeps it all going for Whistling Straits in 2016.
“You can imagine Tiger Woods respecting him and I would expect Tom Watson to get the best out of Tiger. There is a misconception that Tiger has been a bad player but he has only lost one singles match – to Costantino Rocca at Valderrama.
“I think what he has proved is that you need two good players to win at foursomes and fourballs, not just one. But I think Tom will get the best out of Tiger just because of his standing in the game.”