Ryder Cup: Stenson almost assured of a place already

Paul McGinley and Tom Watson share a joke on the PGA Centenary course during a four-hole challenge, which included 16  Scottish youngsters, as part of the 'Year to Go' celebrations ahead of the 2014 Ryder Cup. Picture: Jane Barlow
Paul McGinley and Tom Watson share a joke on the PGA Centenary course during a four-hole challenge, which included 16 Scottish youngsters, as part of the 'Year to Go' celebrations ahead of the 2014 Ryder Cup. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE youngsters taking part in the Captain’s Challenge seemed more excited about the presence of Marvin Humes, a member of boyband JLS and one of the celebrity ambassadors for next year’s Ryder Cup.

From a golfing perspective, though, the name on most lips at Gleneagles yesterday was Henrik Stenson, the game’s man of the moment.

Since finishing third in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart in July, the 37-year-old Swede has enjoyed a rich vein of form, which he capped on Sunday by becoming the first European player to win both the PGA Tour Championship and FedEx Cup title.

Even though only part of the £9 million he has banked in little over two months has counted due to the qualifying race having only started three weeks ago, Stenson is already close to sealing his place on the European team for the first Ryder Cup to be staged in Scotland in more than 40 years.

His one and only appearance in the event was part of a winning team at The K Club in 2006 and, having displayed guts and determination to bounce back from slipping to 230th in the world on the back of losing a reported seven-figure sum in disgraced financier Allen Stanford’s Ponzi scheme in 2009, European captain Paul McGinley is already licking his lips at the prospect of Stenson being in his line-up in Perthshire.

“I am delighted for Henrik as he has had a few tough times in his career,” said the Irishman before teeing off with US counterpart Tom Watson in their fun challenge over four holes on the PGA Centenary Course along with 16 youngsters from all around Scotland.

“He is certainly on a high and arguably playing the best golf of anybody in the world at the moment. I am delighted for him as he’s enjoyed great success and won a huge amount of money, too.

“More importantly from my point of view, he has won a massive amount of points. He won a few weeks ago, too, and he has won again this week with a massive amount of world ranking points. He is probably 85 per cent there in making the team. I can pretty much count that he will be able to get that last 15 per cent.

“He is very much the modern player. Everybody sees the size of him. He has got muscles on his muscles – he is just huge. He is a great guy and played in Ryder Cup in the past. I have played in the same team as him. I know he has got a really colourful personality, so he will be a good addition to the team should he make it and he will be very welcome.”

While delighted to see the likes of Stenson and US Open champion Justin Rose beating the Americans in their own backyard, McGinley, the first Irishman to be appointed as European captain for the biennial bout, insisted that performances on this side of the Atlantic will carry the same weight when it comes to handing out his three wild cards in around 11 months’ time.

“It’s important but not essential,” he replied to being asked about Europeans winning Stateside. “I’m a great believer in peer pressure…that if one of your peers performs well, other guys step up to the plate.

“We’ve seen Justin winning the US Open this year, we’ve seen Henrik winning the FedEx, both on American soil, and I’ve no doubt there’ll be a number of other European players based in America who will step up to the plate, too.

“But I won’t be forgetting about what’s happening on the European Tour and the young guys who are coming through. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again, I’m really going to keep an eye on the younger guys who might not necessarily be in the top 50 in the world but who are performing well on a consistent basis in Europe.”

Qualifying for the American team re-starts in January, with Open champion Phil Mickelson leading the standings
and the other eight automatic spots being filled at present by Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker.

“The team as it stands right now looks almost exactly the same as the 12 who played at 
Medinah,” said Watson, the US captain and five-times Open champion. “I’ll use that as motivation,” he added of the last-day disappointment the Americans suffered in Chicago a year ago.

“At the same time, I don’t think any of the players should need to be motivated. But they can be inspired by it – and maybe I can add a little inspiration by using the memory of the 2012 Ryder Cup as a motivator.”

Appearing together in public for the first time since their respective appointments – the “Year to Go” events conclude today with a joint press conference at Gleneagles – Watson and McGinley seemed completely at ease in each other’s company and, though typically taking things in his stride, the former admitted the build-up had changed a lot since he led the US to their last victory on foreign soil at The Belfry in 1993.

“The captaincy has changed in that I’m doing a lot more in the way of peripheral activities. We certainly didn’t have a ‘Year to Go’ event the last time I was captain,” he said.

“There are other things that have changed. The social media, the Twitter and Facebook, that is all part of the job now. And that’s difficult. But the job is the same and the edge will always be there.

“Paul wants to win this, he wants it in the worst way. I want to win just as badly. But we’re just stage managers, the players are the actors. If they don’t go out on that stage and perform well enough to get a standing ovation at the end of it all, they haven’t done their job. And they know it.”