The drama is heating up in Wentworth as a star-studded leaderboard attempts to hunt down Italy’s Francesco Laporta on Sunday afternoon at the European Tour’s flagship event.
If ever winning the European Tour’s fifth major was going to go under the radar it’s this afternoon.
The points race to make the European Ryder Cup team is extremely volatile and changed numerous times on Saturday afternoon and will do so today.
We are down to a three-way battle for two spots, there are as many permutations as the great Premier League relegation battle between West Bromwich Albion, Southampton, Norwich City and Crystal Palace in the 2004/05 season where all four teams were trying to escape the bottom three.
During Saturday’s third round Shane Lowry occupied the final automatic Ryder Cup place, dropped out of the top-9 and then catapulted himself back inside the European places ahead of Lee Westwood.
Amazingly most of the permutations are being fuelled by Rory McIlroy’s absence, meaning Bernd Wiesberger is pretty much guaranteed to overtake the four-time major winner in the European points list, meaning McIlroy will qualify by virtue of his ranking in the world points list.
Lowry deserves to qualify either automatically or by a captains pick. The Clara native has done everything but win this season and has not missed the cut since the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
Since then, the 2019 Open Champion has posted four top-10s and four top-25s and is on course to contend at the top of the leaderboard today.
With Wiesberger all but assured of a place on the team, Lowry will be in a straight shootout with Lee Westwood for the final automatic place on Pádraig Harrington’s team.
The volatility of the Ryder Cup race was shown today when Lowry bogeyed the par-4 15th he was suddenly condemned to the unpredictable realm of waiting on a captain’s pick before he birdied the 18th hole to move back inside the projected rankings ahead of Westwood.
Currently, Westwood holds ninth place by just 2.34 points ahead of Lowry, but it can all change tomorrow as Lowry goes in search of a first win since 2019.
Westy is in a share of 43rd place as he looks to move up as many places as possible to keep Lowry out.
The Englishman had back-to-back runner up finishes at the Arnold Palmer and the Players, but since then he is without a top-10 and has only one top-20, despite missing only three cuts.
However, while we know about Poulter’s Ryder Cup CV and Garcia is the record points scorer in the competition, BUT Westwood has played 44 of 49 sessions from 1997 to 2014 and every single session in his first five appearances, so his record can’t be ignored and Harrington, who leaves no stone unturned as regards to what pair of socks he might wear will be aware of this.
It seems Wiesberger is the gate crasher, he is the man nobody wants and after he choked in Switzerland last month, it seemed his chance had gone. The perennial class act on the European Tour without bringing his A game to the world stage. It seems if he doesn’t qualify automatically he won’t get the nod from Harrington.
Had the Austrian missed the cut this week Lowry and Westwood would have been in and the wildcard picks would have been Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose.
Wiesy is certain to qualify now and Harrington will have a massive selection headache with Lowry/Westwood, Poulter, Rose and Garcia potentially vying for three wildcard picks.
Garcia has shown some form of late with two top-10s to end his PGA Tour season while Justin Rose is just five shots adrift of Laporta going into the final round in Wentworth, so he can’t be ruled out of winning on Sunday evening.
Ian Poulter also showed late signs of form with two top-10s in his final five events, despite missing out on the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.
The Postman missed the cut in Wentworth this week and perhaps laid a seed of doubt in Harrington’s mind despite him saying Poulter was in the driving seat for a wildcard selection.
Should Lowry qualify automatically I have a feeling Harrington might side with Poulter, Rose and Garcia as Westwood hasn’t shown any glimpses of form despite making plenty of cuts.
The question on every Irish golf fan’s lip all summer has been “will Harrington pick Lowry?”
If the Offaly man can’t qualify automatically, he simply can’t be ignored and there are no friendship issues to be discussed here, Lowry has been better than Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton this summer (their form is a worrying sidenote for Harrington) and should get one of the three wildcard picks if he needs one.