My favourite sporting event, golf’s sensational Ryder Cup, is now little over a fortnight away and I think the European side could be made to pay for two of captain Thomas Bjorn’s wild card choices, writes Craig Goldthorp.
The USA haven’t won the sport’s greatest team prize on European soil since way back in 1993 at The Belfry, but I can see Jim Furyk’s awesome looking squad triumphing at Le Golf National in Paris when the final day singles on September 30 are done and dusted.
Although looking at the American line-up – including major winners Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson – could strike fear into the heart of any European supporter – two of Bjorn’s wildcard picks for his side last Wednesday appear to adversely affect our chances of regaining the cup lost in Minnesota two years ago.
Although I think two of Bjorn’s picks – Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson – are unarguable, I would take issue with both of his other choices in Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter.
Let’s start with Sergio, the 38-year-old Spaniard.
If he’d been playing well this year, then the all-time Ryder Cup legend would have been an absolute no brainer for the 2018 squad.
But the fact is, he hasn’t.
By Sergio’s high standards, this season has gone about as smoothly as Prime Minister Theresa May’s bumbling attempts to negotiate this country’s smooth exit from the European Union.
He missed the cut in all four majors and finished a lowly 124th on the PGA Tour money list to fail to qualify for the FedEx Cup play-offs.
Granted, Sergio has a hugely respectable record in the Ryder Cup, having been part of five winning teams and garnered 19 victories, seven halves and 11 losses from his 37 matches played between 1999 and 2016.
Indeed, this means that the 2017 Masters champion is just three points away from beating Nick Faldo’s overall competition points record of 25.
But I think Ryder Cup wildcards should be based on a player’s form in the current season, not what he’s done in the past, however spectacular that might have been.
And that should have ruled Sergio out of getting a pick from his old buddy Bjorn, who argues that he’s picked Garcia partly because of his ability to lift his team-mates in a ‘cheerleader’ role.
Bjorn said: “Sergio’s the one that stands up and gives a speech to the others and he has done that in the past.
“He’s the one that stands up on Thursday night and rallies the troops.
“He’s also the one that on Saturday night, when you’re four points ahead, that goes ‘OK, this is by no means won yet’, because he knows that. He’s been there.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but could an out of form Sergio not have done all of these things as one of Bjorn’s non playing vice captains?
The Dane argues that Garcia remains a world class golfer but his results this season would have me begging to differ.
All day long, I’d have picked Sergio’s Spanish compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello instead.
He’s played consistently well over many weeks, had a high finish in a big tournament in America last weekend and was one of Europe’s best performers at a largely disappointing Ryder Cup two years ago.
I’m now moving on to what I consider to be Bjorn’s second mistake – which may surprise some readers – his decision to pick Ian Poulter.
It’s all about opinions and my opinion is that we’d have been better going with Belgian star Thomas Pieters.
That’s despite the fact that Poulter – similar to Garcia – is a Ryder Cup legend having almost single handedly inspired Europe’s improbable comeback from 10-4 down to triumph at the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ in 2012.
But that was six years ago now. Since then, Poulter largely played poorly in the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles before going on a slump which took him outside the top 200 in the world rankings over the next few seasons.
Although he’s had a resurgence more recently – winning this year’s Houston Open – Poulter collapsed badly after starting well at the 2018 US Open, missed the cut at the Open Championship and did the same again at the recent Dell Technologies Championship.
Mammoth hitter Pieters – who contributed four of Europe’s 11 points in the 2016 Ryder Cup – started this year slowly but has been hitting form at just the right time.
He very nearly won the recent USPGA Championship and has had top 10 finishes at both the Scottish Open and Czech Masters.
So my four wildcards would have been Casey, Stenson, Cabrera Bello and Pieters.
Despite me disagreeing with Bjorn, I’m strongly hoping that Europe defy my logic and win in Paris!