Both Thorbjorn Olesen and Marc Warren may claim otherwise, but the Ryder Cup factor is already beginning to have an effect on Europe’s hopefuls for the match at Hazeltine in a year’s time.
With Darren Clarke, our captain for that encounter, in the same group, Olesen set up his victory in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last weekend – a success that moved him to the top of the Ryder Cup points table – by carding a seven-under-par 65 at St Andrews on the Saturday.
Yesterday, it was Warren who was raising his game in the Ulsterman’s company, firing the same score, though a six-under-par effort in his case on the Marquess’ Course at Woburn, to sit one off the lead, held by Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, after the first round of the
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“I didn’t really think about going out today with the Ryder Cup captain,” insisted the 34-year-old Glaswegian, before adding, with a smile: “I can see why it would be a factor to someone a bit younger maybe.” Though not word for word, Olesen said exactly the same thing last week, but the fact of the matter is that Clarke will be starting to keep an eye on potential team members, and both the Dane and Warren are genuine contenders.
Their first target is to make Europe’s team for the EurAsia Cup early next year, and it was no surprise to hear Warren reveal both that and the Ryder Cup had been topics of conversation as he produced a flawless six-under-par 65 with a new driver, new irons and a new ball.
“There was a little bit of general Ryder Cup chat,” he said after covering the front nine – his inward journey – in 31. “He was talking about the early stages of the clothing, having been looking at some stuff last week. He said he is looking forward to the Ryder Cup but, first of all, he is looking forward to getting into the environment as a captain in the EurAsia Cup and learning from that, and he did encourage both me and Andy Sullivan [the third member of the group] to get into both teams. Obviously he wants anybody who is playing well to be in the team. There are no favourites. He just wants the best team representing Europe.”
On a day when more than 15,000 spectators flocked to the Bedfordshire venue to celebrate this event’s return after a seven-year absence, Warren’s best first-round effort of the season saw him share the lead until Fitzpatrick birdied the last two holes in fading light. The pick of the Scot’s six birdies came at the 16th, where he cut a 7-iron from 162 yards around a tree and almost holed it. Throughout the bag, his new Callaway equipment left him purring with delight. “It’s rare for me to change equipment,” revealed Warren, who is keen to climb from just outside into the top 50 by the end of the year so that he can tie up a Masters debut next April, having suffered the agony of missing out on that this season after being a week too late to secure an 11th-hour invitation. “I used my old irons for three years and the driver for a year. I’m always testing equipment when it comes out but, unless it is absolutely right for me, it doesn’t come into play. This driver, the irons and the ball all feel better than what I was using, so I had no qualms about putting them into play.”
While Ian Poulter, suddenly realising the enormity of being the tournament host, admitted being struck by a rare bout of first-tee nerves – he got over them to sign for a 69 – Paul Lawrie didn’t get that far. The Aberdonian pulled out due to a back injury he sustained taking his clubs out of the car boot on Wednesday, while the Scottish contingent was reduced further when virus-hit Stephen Gallacher withdrew following a 75.