Martin Dempster: Russell Knox should be wary of late twist

If the bookmakers have got it right, then only one of the three wild cards on offer in Europe's team for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine next month has still to be decided in the final week of a year-long qualifying race.

Russell Knox is currently next in line after the nine Europeans who have qualified automatically. Picture: Getty
Russell Knox is currently next in line after the nine Europeans who have qualified automatically. Picture: Getty

According to the odds-makers, Russell Knox is set to claim that pick and be named along with Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood when Darren Clarke finalises his team next Tuesday lunchtime at a press conference at Wentworth.

However, an anxious few days lie ahead for the Scot as recent history points to the last roll of the dice having an impact on European captains, with no reason whatsoever to suggest the current incumbent has already made his mind up.

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Colin Montgomerie handed Edoardo Molinari one of his wild cards for the 2010 contest at Celtic Manor after the Italian won the final qualifying event on that occasion, the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.

A valiant effort in the same tournament two years later proved enough for Belgian Nicholas Colsaerts to be selected by Jose Maria Olazabal for Medinah before Stephen Gallacher got the nod from Paul McGinley for Gleneagles two years ago after the Scot, needing to be in the top two to secure automatic qualification, finished third in the Italian Open.

“That performance had a huge effect on me,” admitted McGinley of picking Gallacher at the expense of Luke Donald, along with Westwood and Ian Poulter, and how ironic that hopes of getting a Scot on the team again have come down to the wire once more.

Strictly in terms of improving his own position – he’s currently next in line after the nine who have now qualified automatically – Knox can do no more. His event this week, the Barclays Championship, which marks the start of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Play-Offs, doesn’t count in Europe’s Ryder Cup race.

The good news for the recent Travelers Championship winner, though, is that only one man, Soren Kjeldsen, can jump above him come Sunday night and that will require the home player to win the concurrent European Tour event, the Made in Denmark at Himmerland in Farso.

Interestingly, Kjeldsen has been paired with Irishman Shane Lowry, another of the players who might still pip Knox, with the vice-captain assigned by Clarke to keep an eye on that duo in the opening two rounds being Paul Lawrie. After finishing runner-up to Dustin Johnson in the US Open, Lowry looked a certainly to qualify under his own steam only to go off the boil since then and admits that nothing but a victory on Sunday night is likely to realistically keep him in wild-card contention.

Who else can pip Knox, who is 8/15 with William Hill to claim that third pick if, as seems likely, two-time major winner Kaymer and Westwood, who would be making his tenth Ryder Cup appearance, will add much-needed experience to a team that currently contains five rookies?

Thomas Pieters, the highly-rated young Belgian, can’t be discounted yet after he came close to giving himself a chance of still qualifying automatically heading into the Danish event, while the likes of Luke Donald, Francesco Molinari and, in particular, Graeme McDowell could still throw a massive spanner in the works if either of those triumphed in the Barclays Championship at Bethgate Black outside New York.

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In short, it’s definitely not in the bag yet for Knox, even though he’s sitting fourth in the FedEx Cup, 20th in the world and would have qualified automatically if the points from his WGC win in China last November had counted. Clarke has a big call to make and there may yet be a twist or two in the tale before the European captain himself finally decides on his 12 golfing gladiators.

Europe: World points list

1 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 380.31pts*

2 Rory McIlroy (NIR) 319.97pts*

3 Danny Willett (Eng) 271.99pts*

4 Sergio Garcia (Esp) 207.95pts*

5 Rafa Cabrera Bello (Esp) 179.42pts*

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6 Justin Rose (Eng) 173.09pts*

7 Chris Wood (Eng) 163.06pts*

8 Andy Sullivan (Eng) 153.80*

9 Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 153.58pts*

10 Russell Knox (Sco) 141.22pts

11 Lee Westwood (Eng) 117.67pts

12 Soren Kjeldsen (Den) 117.47pts

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13 Thomas Pieters (Bel) 117.18pts

14 Martin Kaymer (Ger) 116.34pts

15 Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) 114.35pts

*Denotes nine automatic qualifiers, with three wild cards to be named at Wentworth on 30 August

United States

1 Dustin Johnson 11,860.361pts*

2 Jordan Spieth 11,179.143pts*

3 Phil Mickelson 5,764.936pts*

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4 Jimmy Walker 5,337.662pts*

5 Brooks Koepka 4,873.630pts*

6 Brandt Snedeker 4,410.915pts

7 Zach Johnson 4,337.973pts

8 Patrick Reed 4,180.371pts

9 J.B. Holmes 4,149.716pts

10 Bubba Watson 4,055.311pts

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11 Matt Kuchar 4,017.455pts

12 Rickie Fowler 3,814.612pts

13 Scott Piercy 3,284.119pts

14 Bill Haas 3,239.755pts

15 Jim Furyk 3,003.102pts

*Denotes those already qualified, with three wild cards to be named on 12 September and last one on 25 September