Howell takes lead as Cup field forms

Countdown to the Ryder Cup: Woosnam hopes for no last-minute surprises as attention turns to wild cards
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What with four of the European team in the top six, this was a leaderboard for a Ryder Cup captain to thank the heavens for, although Ian Woosnam was only looking in that direction last night for a bit of guidance. At six o'clock this evening he makes "the hardest decision of my life" when he names his two wild cards.

At least his 10 automatics seem all but certain after the third round of the BMW International Open here. Paul Broadhurst is a great friend of his, but it is fair to assume that Woosnam will not be willing him on to have the round of his life today, as that could conceivably oust Jose Maria Olazabal from the automatic places and give him a captain's-pick nightmare.

Darren Clarke is in, and the other selection looks a straight fight between Lee Westwood and Thomas Bjorn, with the former well ahead on points. Believe it, Woosnam does not need Olazabal's hat thrown into this ring.

In short, Broadhurst would need to leapfrog from six under and from a tie for 30th into the top three, and as the resurgent David Howell leads on 14 under after his 66, and as Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington are in the group on 12 under, the bases are well covered. Then there's Henrik Stenson on 11 under in joint fifth.

All in all then, a good day for the Welshman, although as any Ryder Cup captain will tell you there is always someone willing to cast doubt on your leadership qualities. Yesterday the criticisms came from supposed friend not foe, when Bernhard Langer revealed he has been helping the American captain, Tom Lehman, but not the ungrateful Woosnam. "I offered Ian to give him my advice," said the triumphant 2004 skipper, "but he has not come back to me, which is surprising, as there is so much I can tell him. I certainly went to Sam [Torrance, the 2002 captain] before my match. I mean, Tom [Lehman] has talked to me about it four, five, six times, asking questions about this and that."

Of course, Woosnam has intimated he wants to do it his own way, and that is what makes the announcement so intriguing. Bjorn has certainly not given up the ghost of the chance of him nudging out Westwood, and despite falling four shots behind his rival after a nervy 71, he still sees it as a close contest.

"Lee and I have been friends for 10 years and when it comes to a week like this it's difficult to put friendship aside," he said. "But there's been no banter about it between us because it means too much. I've been in the situation twice before so I know how to handle it. But I would have my reasons to feel disappointed if I miss out again. I'm not going to say now what they are. I'll say on Sunday if that's the way it is. But it is difficult for Woosie, because Lee and I offer the same things and can fit in and play with everyone."

Not that a team necessarily need similar characters, a fact best furnished by the opposite approaches taken by Harrington and Montgomerie last night. Both are within two of the defending champion's lead after a 64 by the Dubliner and a 66 by the Scot. But while Harrington had chosen to cancel a two-hour trip down the autobahn to watch the Republic of Ireland play Germany in Stuttgart yesterday evening, Montgomerie refused to cancel his own night out, which just happened to involve him appearing at a Robbie Williams concert - in Glasgow.

"Unfortunately, when you're doing well at a tournament you don't travel the world the night before the final round," explained Harrington. "These are the side- effects of being in contention. You have to be disciplined and go to bed early."

"Poppycock," said Montgomerie, or whatever these young rocksters say nowadays. "I'm on stage at Hampden Park at 9.30pm," he said, running off the course. "I've got to show the Ryder Cup with Robbie. People think I'm mad but I find it relaxing. I'll be back in my bed here by 1am. And I never sleep 'til then anyhow."

Ah, he's a wild cad, that Monty. If only the wild cards were so predictable.

THE WILD BUNCH: YOU HAVE TWO CHOICES, WOOSIE

Darren Clarke

Caps: 4. Cup record: played 17, won 7, halved 3, lost 7

A certainty, even if he hasn't hit a ball in six weeks and his emotions must be in turmoil after the death of his wife, Heather, last month. He excels at matchplay and holds the course record at the K Club.

Lee Westwood

Caps: 4. Cup record: played 20, won 11, halved 1, lost 8

Missed seven successive cuts early in the year but has reminded, albeit slightly, of the old Westwood of late. Nobody has played better in the last two matches and the other obvious choice.

Thomas Bjorn

Caps: 2. Cup record: played 6, won 3, halved 1, lost 2

Surely lost all chance of an automatic place with three dropped shots in two holes yesterday. Woosnam admiresthis world-class performer, but hisbrittle psyche may cause the Welshman to look elsewhere.

Jose Maria Olazabal

Caps: 6. Cup record: Played 28, won 15, halved 5, lost 8

Unless Bjorn wins, Johan Edfors comes second or Paul Broadhurst finishes in the top three today, Olazabal will be in. Otherwise, he could be the first European in the world's top 20 not to earn a captain's pick.

RUNNERS & RYDERS

Top five from World Points List (European Tour members' World Rankings), top five from European Points List not already qualified, two wild cards.

World List: 1 L DONALD, 2 S GARCIA, 3 H STENSON, 4 D HOWELL, 5 J M OLAZABAL, 6 C Montgomerie, 7 P Casey, 8 P Harrington, 9 C Pettersson, 10 R Karlsson.

European List: 1 MONTGOMERIE, 2 Howell, 3 Garcia, 4 KARLSSON, 5 Stenson, 6 CASEY, 7 HARRINGTON, 8 Donald, 9 P MCGINLEY, 10 Olazabal.

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