PAUL McGinley, the European captain, wants to see Stephen Gallacher “burst through the finishing line” in Turin this weekend to secure an automatic spot in next month’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
As Gallacher admitted to being both nervous and excited about trying to chalk up the top-two finish he needs in the Italian Open to achieve that goal, McGinley revealed that he could relate to the pressure on the Scot after being in a similar position himself a decade ago.
In a battle that went right to the wire, the Irishman held off Swede Freddie Jacobson to secure his spot on Bernhard Langer’s side for the 2004 match in Detroit, so he was talking from experience in assessing Gallacher’s challenge over the next four days in the last counting event in Europe’s year-long qualifying campaign.
With eight of the automatic spots locked up, all that remains to be determined now is whether Gallacher or Graeme McDowell, currently occupying the ninth and final spot but not playing in either the Italian event or Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston this weekend after becoming a father for the first time earlier this week, claim a berth in Perthshire without having to rely on one of McGinley’s three picks.
Anything less than first or second for Gallacher and McDowell is in, meaning the heat is on the Scot, but it’s a challenge McGinley hopes he faces square on, just as Welshman Jamie Donaldson did last week to secure his spot on the team by winning the Czech Masters in Prague.
“It’s exactly what I am looking for this week,” said McGinley of Donaldson responding to the pressure he’d come under to secure an automatic place by recording his third European Tour triumph.
“A guy who sees the finishing line and bursts through it. A guy who is drawn to the finishing line and is excited about the pressure and the situation they are in. I want the guys this week to be motivated by this being the last chance to push themselves over the finishing line, particularly in Stevie’s case.
“It’s an exciting time for him. He knows that his destiny is in his own hands with Graeme not playing this week. He knows that finishing first or second will get him on the team. It’s a pressurised situation and the spotlight is on him, but it’s also a very exciting thing for him.”
Recalling his own nerve-jangling experience in terms of having one last throw of the dice for Ryder Cup qualification, McGinley added: “In 2004, I went into the last event just outside, if not then just inside the team, and was defending my position from Freddie Jacobson.
“We were drawn together on the last day and it went down to the last hole. I finished in the top five to push myself into the team and went on to play what I consider to be my best Ryder Cup in Detroit.
“I know that if Stevie should come through this week with a strong performance it will set him up wonderfully well for Gleneagles. He’s in the spotlight this week and, though it’s a fraction of what it will be like at Gleneagles, if he can perform in the cauldron of expectancy here, then that’s a tick in his favour.”
Having defended his Dubai Desert Classic title earlier this year after playing with both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in the opening two rounds then McIlroy again in the last round, Gallacher has shown he can handle pressure situations like this one and is ready to give it his best shot over the 7,208-yard Circolo Golf.
“I’m excited and I’m nervous,” admitted the 39-year-old. “It’s why you play golf to get feelings like this. I’m the only person that can change things, so I am excited about that.
“It’s been a year-long campaign so I’m delighted to still be in with a chance in the last event. I wouldn’t be playing if I was cowering under the pressure. I’ve come here off a top ten [joint-seventh behind Donaldson]. I know what I have to do and will go about my own game and see what happens.”
While it won’t count in terms of automatic qualification due to the fact it finishes on Monday after a Friday start, McGinley admitted he’d be keeping a close eye on how Ian Poulter and Luke Donald, both now needing wild cards, fare in the Deutsche Bank Championship.
He has also conceded that Gallacher is not the only player in Italy still in with a chance of being on his team to face the Americans in a contest that starts four weeks tomorrow.
“It is hard to say,” he said after being asked how many players will still be in the frame for the selections he will announce at Wentworth next Tuesday.
“But Francesco Molinari has a big part to play because he’s been a big Ryder Cup player, as we know. I’m looking at him as well and he’s got the advantage of playing his home course this week.
“Obviously, I’m interested to see how Luke and Poulter play in the US but, if someone comes out of the blue and wins in very impressive fashion and other things don’t evolve the way we expect them to evolve then they could be considered, too. I don’t want to discount anyone.”
That should serve as encouragement to Marc Warren, winner in Denmark two weeks ago and partnering McGinley in the opening 36 holes in Turin, though the captain admitted he had perhaps left his challenge a tad too late.
“Stevie and the rest of the guys have been in contention pretty much since the points race started, whereas Marc is coming up on the rails a bit,” said McGinley. “I’m playing with him so it will be interesting to see how he does. But he’s a long shot and he knows that himself. But you never know.”