TOM Watson should be feeling jealous of Paul McGinley this week as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain enjoys watching the majority of contenders for next year’s match get a final competitive outing on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles.
On more than one occasion, Watson, the United States captain, has mentioned how he believes that Europe’s recent dominance of the biennial event has been helped by the fact matches on this side of the Atlantic are staged at established venues on the European Tour.
The Wales Open, for instance, was played 11 times at Celtic Manor prior to it hosting the 2010 encounter while this week’s Johnnie Walker Championship will be the 15th event, under a few different guises, to be held on the PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire.
It’s easy to see where Watson is coming from, therefore. Yet, perhaps complacency is starting to creep in with some of Europe’s leading lights because precious few are in the field, even though this is the last chance for those hoping to make McGinley’s team to play it in the heat of battle.
Unlike 2010, when Graeme McDowell won the Wales Open before returning later in the season to be Europe’s match-winning hero at Celtic Manor, there will be no Johnnie Walker event next year due to logistical issues.
It was believed that decision may have influenced some players to add this year’s tournament to their schedule, with the outside possibility that it may even have attracted one or two of those hoping to make Watson’s team.
A sad element of modern-day sport, however, is that there’s way too much emphasis on chasing the big money so, instead of Gleneagles, the majority of players likely to be locking horns there in just over a year’s time, are in New Jersey this week for The Barclays, the opening event in this season’s FedEx Cup Play-Offs.
It’s a scenario McGinley has no control over, as will be the case with the Seve Trophy later in the year, with McDowell, for one, having already indicated he’s unlikely to be available for the Great Britain & Ireland team for that Ryder Cup warm-up event in Paris.
Following Nicolas Colsaerts’ withdrawal last week, only Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari of the team that pulled of the “Miracle at Medinah” are on duty in Scotland this week and, while I apologise to McGinley for pointing this out, it will encourage Watson to know how little some of Europe’s top players have actually played at Gleneagles over the years.
It was staggering to discover, for instance, that neither Luke Donald nor Sergio Garcia have struck a ball in anger there at all; world No 3 Rory McIlroy has played just once before – missing the cut in 2008 – and Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter hasn’t been back since he failed to make the weekend for the second time in four years in 2002.
In fairness to Justin Rose, the US Open champion returned after a seven-year absence in 2008, when he was rewarded for his efforts by making the team for Valhalla. But add in McDowell not having been back since his last visit five years ago and Matteo Manassero, the PGA champion and a genuine contender for a debut next year, also still to play at there for the first time and you feel McGinley is being slightly let down by some people as well as Gleneagles and Diageo being short-changed in the Ryder Cup build-up.
Molinari, at 42nd, is the highest-ranked player in this week’s field, which includes only one other – Dane Thorbjorn Olesen – from the top 50 in the world. Based on the Ryder Cup factor alone, it should be stronger but even more so when this is the first regular European Tour event since the Russian Open a month ago.
Yet it’s the same story when the qualifying race for McGinley’s team starts in Wales next week, when the only notable additions include Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Miguel Angel Jimenez and, the latter apart perhaps, it’s hard to imagine any of them being serious contenders for Gleneagles berths.
These events deserve better, especially when you take into account how much money they’ve put into the coffers of European golf over the past decade or so but, at the same time, an intriguing four days lie ahead at Gleneagles at the end of the week.
In the likes of Olesen and Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello, to name but two, the event’s loyal supporters will be clapping eyes on strong Ryder Cup candidates while, with no less than 24 Scots in the field, hopes will be high for another home victory after Lawrie joined Marc Warren on the event’s roll of honour 12 months ago.
For Lawrie, Warren, Stephen Gallacher, Scott Jamieson and Richie Ramsay, the 2014 Ryder Cup race starts on Thursday and let’s hope they can steal a march on those stayaway stars.