HENRIk Stenson is a certainty; Ian Poulter probably halfway there and Victor Dubuisson two-thirds.
The European team for next year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles is starting to take shape but, at the end of the 2013 season, the Scottish hopefuls have it all to do in their bid to make Paul McGinley’s line-up.
With only 12 qualifying events having been played so far, there’s still plenty of time for the likes of Stephen Gallacher, Paul Lawrie, Scott Jamieson and Marc Warren – our quartet in this year’s Seve Trophy – to force their way into the reckoning for the dozen spots up for grabs in Perthshire.
However, failing to secure hefty chunks of points from the European Tour’s new “Final Series” has left all of them needing to come out of the traps flying in the 2014 campaign or, in Gallacher’s case, finish this year off with a bang in the World Cup of Golf starting in Australia on Thursday.
Even before winning the DP World Tour Championship to be crowned as Europe’s No 1 for the first time, Stenson had already done enough through his FedEx Cup success to secure a third Ryder Cup appearance but first since Nick Faldo’s ill-fated campaign at Valhalla in 2008.
While there is no guarantee he will still be in such imperious form when the clash with the Americans comes around next September, the big-hitting Swede will be a welcome asset for McGinley, though he will need to become re-acquainted with the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course.
Stenson’s last appearance there was in 2002, when he shot an 81 in the first round of the Diageo Scottish PGA Championship and took no further part in an event that Adam Scott won by ten shots with a breathtaking 26-under-par aggregate.
Immediately after last year’s “Miracle at Medinah”, Lee Westwood said future European Ryder Cup teams should feature nine qualified players, two wild cards and Poulter. “It will be the ‘Poults Clause’,” he said in recognition of his fellow Englishman inspiring his team-mates to equal the biggest last-day fightback in the event’s history.
Despite likening those heroics to Liverpool’s famous Champions League Final comeback agaist AC Milan, McGinley insisted at the “Year to Go” celebrations that Poulter wasn’t guaranteed a place on his side, but that shouldn’t be a worry for either of them now. Two second-place finishes and a fifth in between in the last three of those “Final Series” events has left Poulter sitting pretty in his quest to book a fifth Ryder Cup appearance.
While there will be plenty of twists and turns to come, McGinley probably wouldn’t be unhappy if the nine players in the automatic spots now are still there after the Italian Open next August. He will certainly want US Open champion Justin Rose to be facing up to Tom Watson’s side, while there is nothing to suggest that Welshman Jamie Donaldson, Dutchman Joost Luiten, Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Dane Thomas Bjorn – the other four players occupying berths on the World points list – would be potential weak links. Far from it.
The other four automatic selections will come from a European list and, in addition to Stenson, who also sits at the top of the World list but will come off the European one if he stays high enough up on that, and Poulter, Frenchman Dubuisson and Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are the others in pole position there following wins in the Turkish Airlines Open and BMW Masters respectively. With Dubuisson having also finished third in Dubai on Sunday, the 23-year-old has come from obscurity to the cusp of a Ryder Cup debut.
Craig Lee, lying 20th on one list and 23rd on the other, is the closest Scot to one of those qualifying spots at the moment, with Lawrie, a member of the winning team in Chicago, sitting 59th and 76th at the end of a disappointing season. Since returning to Aberdeen last Monday, though, he’s been working his socks off and, along with Gallacher, Jamieson, Warren, Lee and Richie Ramsay, he won’t give up hope of making that Gleneagles team until it is mathematically impossible.