Russell Knox now faces extremely stiff competition from Thomas Pieters in the battle for a Ryder Cup wild card after the young Belgian produced a brilliant finish to win the final event in Europe’s year-long qualifying campaign for next month’s match at Hazeltine.
In a tournament that had already seen him card eye-catching scores of 62 and 71 in the company of captain Darren Clarke, Pieters birdied the last three holes at the Himmerland Resort in Farso to claim a dramatic one-stroke victory over Welshman Bradley Dredge in the Made in Denmark.
The 24-year-old’s third European Tour title triumph in the space of 12 months came hot on the heels of him finishing fourth in the Olympics and second in the defence of his Czech Masters title, making him a strong contender for one of the three picks Clarke will announce at Wentworth tomorrow lunchtime. It is widely thought that Lee Westwood, who’d be making his tenth Ryder Cup appearance, and two-time major champion Martin Kaymer have been earmarked by Clarke for two of those spots to add some experience after the nine automatic qualifiers included five rookies, meaning it could well come down now to a straight choice between Knox and Pieters.
Due to a four-and-and-quarter-hour weather delay in Denmark, the Scot had already finished his final round in the Barclays Championship, the opening event in the FedEx Cup Play-off Series, at Bethpage Black in New York before Pieters threw a massive spanner in the works by getting the win he needed to have a realistic chance of getting the nod ahead of either Knox or former world No 1 Luke Donald.
“If Pieters wins, then maybe we should both be on the team, I don’t know,” said Knox after signing off with a one-under-par 70 for a four-over 288 total, which looked like seeing him finish around 60th. “It’s going to be interesting and, while I should be still asleep when the picks are announced, I know Darren will call me beforehand, so I really hope it is the phone call I will be expecting.
“It will be really great for my career and also be an amazing experience to play in a Ryder Cup, so I feel like I deserve to be in the team.
“If selected, I would bring to the European team a strength in that my game is built on hitting a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, and at times, as we saw a few weeks ago at the Travelers [where he recorded a second PGA Tour triumph in ten months], I can also hole long putts. I can make a lot of birdies, too, and a massive plus for me is that I have got so used over here in the States playing alongside guys like Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and other Americans who will be on the US team.”
Pieters, who almost holed his tee shot at the 16th before hitting approaches close at both the 17th and 18th, signed off with a 65 for a 17-under-par 267 total. He described the win as “cool due to how I closed it out”. He declined to comment on whether or not he felt he’d done enough to earn a pick but, asked if he thought he’d given Clarke a headache, he admitted: “I would say so, yeah.”
Kaymer, who finished six shots behind in joint-sixth, is hoping he’s done enough to play in a fourth successive Ryder Cup and reckons Pieters also deserves to be on the team.
“If I was captain, he’d be one of my picks, that’s for sure,” said the 2012 match-winner at Medinah. “He brings something special to the team. He hits the ball very far, has a good short game and has proved he can play well under pressure.”