Langer faces selection headache as Cup hopefuls prosper

Whether Colin Montgomerie makes the Ryder Cup team or not, and it would have to count as a shock if it was the latter, the Scot thinks the European side will be the strongest from one to 12 that they have ever been. With the terrific battle going on here for the final places on the team to face the Americans next month, he is probably right.

"The pressure has been on this week but all credit to all the players who are in contention for the way we've played," Montgomerie said. "Whatever happens, we're going to have a very strong team. It shows there's quality throughout. It will be the most evenly strong team we've had."

Montgomerie is relying on being picked as a wild card by Bernhard Langer. The captain arrived in Germany yesterday and will have liked what he saw at Eichenreid, even if his decisions today will be all the harder. With blissful summer weather replacing the storms of earlier in the week, the scoring was as superb as it usually is here. Leading the way after 54 holes were Thomas Levet, whose 63 was one stroke outside the course record, and Miguel Angel Jimenez at 15 under par.

Both men are already looking forward to playing at Oakland Hills, along with Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. It would take freak circumstances to knock out Paul Casey, so the threesome under the most pressure have been David Howell, Ian Poulter and Paul McGinley.

McGinley, who is in the last qualifying position, produced a 67 to lie 11 under par. The Irishman is playing in his 10th event in a row but knows he has to keep going for another day. Howell, who also scored a 67, and Poulter were both eight under par, which has not yet secured their places but has made it more difficult for everyone else.

Six players could have jumped into the team at the start of the week. Brian Davis and Jean-François Remesy missed the cut, Graeme McDowell trails down the list and the win he needs is out of sight, while Raphael Jacquelin and Joakim Haeggman may have too much to do.

Haeggman, at seven under, will need something special if he is to step up from being one of Langer's assistants to being the one asking for his shoes to be cleaned by the backroom staff. With the course so susceptible to low scoring, the situation may change quickly today, but the key to the riddle may be Fredrik Jacobson.

Jacobson, after a 68, was tied for fifth place, three behind the leaders. Had any of those in front of him missed the cut, it might have been enough to get him in the team, but as it is the Swede may have to finish in the top two to endanger Howell, Poulter or McGinley.

"I'm nervous just thinking about it," said McGinley, who has had a brilliant last month and will play alongside Jacob-son today. "I feel under the cosh. I'm playing better in this campaign than last time, but still I'm struggling to make the team. I want to make it and it is important for me to make the top 10. Bernhard is going to have some tough decisions. At least if I don't make it, I know I put in a strong performance, I didn't back off."

If Jacobson does not qualify, he must, as the fourth highest European on the world rankings, come into consideration for a wild card. Luke Donald and Alex Cejka will also be in the frame and were both at nine under. Montgomerie, however, has vast experience and his form is not a problem. Yesterday's 67 was his second this week in which he has not dropped a shot. At 12 under, three behind, his 39th career victory is still possible.

More to the point, the deter-mination he has shown here is exactly the quality that has earned the Scot such a distinguished Ryder Cup record. He may be the ideal case study for a conference of psychologists, but the cardiologists gathered in Munich this weekend will find nothing wrong with his heart.

"I would respect any decision that Bernhard makes," Montgomerie said. "He'll have worked it all out and whoever he picks will give him the best chance of getting 14 points. If it is me, I promise my form will be fine on the Friday morning of the Ryder Cup."

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