Paul McGinley opts for three wild cards

EUROPEAN Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley has increased his picks for next year’s match at Gleneagles to three – one more than Jose Maria Olazabal had at his disposal at Medinah – but the Irishman reckons Martin Laird is facing a difficult task to make the team in Perthshire.

The qualifying race starts at the Wales Open at Celtic Manor on 29 August but Laird, close to regaining a spot in the world’s top 50 after winning the Valero Texas Open last month, will not be eligible to pick up points until next January as the US-based player opted not to take out membership of the European Tour this year.

Asked about Laird’s situation as he announced his change to the wildcards on offer at Gleneagles – American captain Tom Watson will have the same number of selections at his disposal after reducing the four picks available to predecessor Davis Love III – McGinley admitted the Scot will be faced with playing “catch-up”.

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“He has chosen not to take out his membership on the European Tour and, unfortunately, there’s consequences for that,” said the European captain at a press conference at Wentworth in the build-up to the BMW PGA Championship starting at the Surrey course tomorrow. “Those consequences are that the first four months in the qualifying race don’t count for him so he is starting behind the eight ball and he’s got to really start next year fast if he wants to make the team. But he knows that.

“I spoke to him at the TPC [at Sawgrass a fortnight ago] and he’s very keen to make the team. He’s very proud of his Scottish heritage and background. His mum and dad travel to America quite a bit to see him and they are as Scottish as you get. I think he is a guy who is certainly focused on being on the team but he’s realised he’s given himself a big uphill task by not taking up membership this year. He knows he’s going to have to play really well next year.”

As things stand, Laird’s only European Tour appearance this year will be the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart in July but the Glaswegian might be advised to consider adding the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles the following month to his schedule.

With that event not being held next year due to the logistics of hosting a Ryder Cup, it will be the last chance to get a competitive outing on the course before the biennial event returns to the home of golf for the first time in more than 40 years. “History on the golf course will be one of the criteria when it comes to making my three picks,” admitted McGinley, who revealed he’d carried out a thorough examination of all the Ryder Cup matches since 1979 before coming to his decision to change the system Olazabal had in place.

In what will be music to the ears of Paul Lawrie and Marc Warren, both winners at Gleneagles, he added: “I’m a great believer in horses for courses and how many times players have played the course, if they’ve won there or performed well around it will be one of the criteria – not the most important but not the least important either.”

The extra wildcard has been freed up by McGinley dropping the automatic spots off the European points list to four – it will stay as five from a world list – but he denied that move necessarily favoured those players now playing most of their golf on the PGA Tour.

He also insisted he’d be prepared to go well down the world rankings for one of his wildcards if he felt that was necessary, though he conceded it is “virtually impossible” for players not inside the top 50 to make the team.

“By giving myself an extra pick I feel as though I’ve given myself a little bit wriggle room,” he said. “The Gleneagles examination paper is going to be quite different than the one at Medinah was in terms of aspects like weather and I have to be mindful of those when I’m tailoring the team.”