By John Huggan
Lee Westwood. Photo by Golffile
How volatile has the qualification process for the European Ryder Cup side become? When Shane Lowry dropped a shot at the par-4 15th hole in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on Saturday, the former Open champion was suddenly not one of the top-nine automatic qualifiers. He was out and Lee Westwood was in.
Hang on though. When Lowry made birdie from eight feet on the par-5 18th, he moved to 11 under par and into a share of fifth place alongside Bernd Wiesberger and American Sean Crocker. And back into the “projected” Ryder Cup team by a margin of 3.2 points over Westwood.
Hang on though (3). When Kiradech Aphibarnrat made birdie at the aforementioned 15th, that tie for fifth became four-strong and Lowry’s edge over Westwood was down to less than two points.
Hang on though (3). When Adam Scott joined the pack on 11 under with a birdie on the 16th, Lowry’s lead decreased again.
And so it went on, every five minutes the computer at the front of the media center at Wentworth updating the contest within the European Tour’s “flagship event.”
By close of play, it was back to “as you were at the start.” Westwood had resumed his hold on ninth spot by a margin of 2.34 points, leaving Lowry (who had dropped into a tie for seventh place when Scott birdied the last and Jamie Donaldson made eagle) condemned to join the pool of players relying on one of the three wildcard selections available to European captain, Padraig Harrington.
But, of course, it could all change again—and almost certainly will—multiple times before the final picks are made Sunday evening.
“Everything is all up in the air again,” admitted Martin Kaymer, along with Robert Karlsson, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell, one of Harrington’s assistants. “We’ll have a meeting this afternoon. There is still a lot to play for.”
Indeed, there is. Kaymer played with Wiesberger, the Austrian now looking most likely to claim a last-minute place on the plane to Whistling Straits. By finishing 50th or better this week—an almost racing certainty now—Wiesberger will move above Rory McIlroy on the European points list. That means McIlroy qualifies from the parallel “World” points list, at the expense of either Lowry or Westwood.
There are other, much less likely scenarios in play involving the likes of Matt Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton, but essentially we are now down to a three-way battle for two spots, with Wiesberger a strong favourite to claim one of those. The other will most likely go to the winner of the Lowry/Westwood battle.
Not surprisingly, Westwood was in no mood to discuss any of the above in any kind of detail at the end of a third-round 71 that leaves him in a distant tie for 43rd place in the tournament (remember that?).
“That’s the way the qualifying goes,” shrugged the 10-time Ryder Cup player. “It was always going to be very volatile this week. We knew that before we started and some strange things happen, don’t they? It’s one of those things. There’s not really any point having this conversation until Sunday night. Everybody is just guessing right now.
“I knew there was a chance I could miss out. Everybody looked at the points and saw that about 15 guys had a chance, which I don’t think has ever happened before. But there was always the chance of the end being like this.
“I’m not stressed about it. Golf doesn’t stress me in the slightest any more. I don’t care enough about golf for it to stress me. I do care about the Ryder Cup though. It would be nice to be in it. But I don’t lose sleep about golf anymore.”
Which leaves any insomnia to Harrington, a qualified accountant. It’s a handy talent indeed this week.