IT IS going right to the wire for Stephen Gallacher but the agony is over for Jamie Donaldson, who secured his Ryder Cup spot with real aplomb as he chalked up a timely victory in the D+D Real Czech Masters in Prague.
Having led after the opening two rounds before being overtaken by fellow Welshman Bradley Dredge heading into the final circuit at Albatross Golf Resort, the 38-year-old emerged as a deserved winner after producing a classy performance when the chips were down in an intriguing battle for the final few automatic spots on Europe’s team for Gleneagles.
Until missing back-to-back cuts in the Scottish Open and the Open Championship, Donaldson looked a lock-in on the back of some strong displays since the qualifying campaign started just under a year ago, notably his second-place finish in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
All of a sudden, though, his automatic selection was under threat, hence a late decision to add the penultimate counting event in the Czech Republic to his schedule when he had originally planned to be re-charging the batteries in preparation for his first outing against the Americans.
In truth, it would have been tough on Donaldson if he had slipped out of one of those coveted spots and found himself up against Gallacher, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood for the three spots that McGinley will hand out at Wentworth tomorrow week. The Scot must finish in the top two at this week’s Italian Open.
Donaldson’s outstanding display handed him a third European Tour triumph, adding to his wins in the 2012 Irish Open and the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship the following year.
A closing 68 – he opened with three straight birdies – for a 14-under-par total of 274 gave Donaldson a two-shot victory over Dredge (72), with South African Merrick Bremner (69) and Dane Soren Kjeldsen (71) a further shot back in joint-third.
Gallacher was on course to finish fifth on his own until he ran up a double-bogey 6 at the penultimate hole, the 39-year-old eventually closing with a 73 to sit joint-seventh, just ahead of compatriot Scott Jamieson, who shot a course-record 64 before the leaders set out to catapult himself up the leaderboard.
It was Donaldson’s day, though, and, on this evidence, he will be a reliable man for McGinley to have at his disposal when the gun goes off on the PGA Centenary Course four weeks on Friday.
“I didn’t decide to come here until late in the day and it’s been a big decision because I played well all week,” he admitted after claiming a £222,000 first prize that lifted him to fourth in this season’s Race to Dubai.
“I needed to play well this week or next week – or both – to guarantee my place in the Ryder Cup team so there was a lot on the line. It all came together this week which was great.
“I’d had a few second places so I’m really happy to have come out on top. Winning is massive. It shoots you up rankings, Race to Dubai all sorts.”
Donaldson will become the first Welshman to play in the Ryder Cup since Philip Price, who beat Phil Mickelson in the last-day singles, helped Sam Torrance’s team triumph at The Belfry in 2002.
“It’s so difficult to get in the team because everyone is playing so well,” said Donaldson of his feat in joining Dai Rees, Brian Huggett, Dave Thomas and, of course, Ian Woosnam in representing the Principality in the event.
“I had a couple of good weeks in Germany and France [finishing fifth in both] and, looking back, I maybe should have taken a week off. I went to Scotland thinking I was playing well but wasn’t at the races there. I didn’t play well at the Open and suddenly had missed two cuts that dropped me down the rankings and it was all to play for.”
Whether or not Gallacher will join him there could depend on how he fares in this week’s Italian Open, though having bounced back from two successive missed cuts to post a seventh top-ten of the season, he must be close already, surely, to earning one of those wild cards.
“It went pretty good,” said the Lothians man of an effort that showed he is ready to fight all the way to that wire on Sunday night. “I’m a bit disappointed with today as I didn’t play that well. But, if you can manage a top ten when you are not quite firing, that’s pretty good.”