No hint of clarity in the Ryder Cup plot

Harrington and Donald miss the cut and put there team places in jeopardy
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The Independent Online

If it is possible to worsen Colin Montgomerie's mood at the moment then Padraig Harrington managed to do so when the second round of the USPGA Championship was eventually concluded here yesterday. The Dubliner double-bogeyed the last to miss the cut – and then refused to alter his schedule to chase the few euros he needs to qualify for the Ryder Cup automatically.

Instead, just like Justin Rose – and perhaps just like Paul Casey, too – Harrington will throw himself at poor Monty's mercy.

What a headache this is proving to be for the Scot as the selection permutations bash around in that troubled cranium. Much could still come to pass in the final major of the season, but there is a very clear and present danger that he will have to leave out one of Harrington, Casey, Rose and Luke Donald – and may even feel obliged to overlook two of them.

What he could truly do with is some help from these European heavyweights. If, for instance, Harrington was to change his mind and play the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles (first prize: £210,000) instead of The Barclays in New York (first prize: £900,000), then he could become a top-nine automatic when Monty names his dozen a fortnight today. Harrington is only €13,000 behind Miguel Angel Jimenez and would be fancied to leapfrog the veteran Spaniard.

But after his calamity yesterday – which saw him visit the creek on the 18th to miss the cut by a solitary shot – Harrington revealed that he was not for turning. "I have to be competitive and stick to my schedule," he said rather confusingly, before making his case for a wildcard. "I hope Monty is a guy who looks at stats. Sixteen top-10s in the last year is alot of comfort. I am sure he needs some experience in that team. I've done everything I can. There's nothing more I can do."

Well, quite frankly there is. At least Donald is considering putting the Ryder Cup above the FedEx Cup play-offs. The Englishman also missed the cut, finishing five-over after a miserable 77, and is hanging on to the final spot on the world points list by a slender margin. It is a complex situation, but the chances are that Donald will also be out of frame come Monday morning.

"I am right on the edge," he admitted. "Right now the plan is still to play New York but I have a couple more days to think about it. I may call Monty, I don't know. We spoke briefly the other day as he wanted to know what my plans were. I told him New York but I didn't plan on missing the cut."

It is an incredible – some might venture "ridiculous" – scenario in which a pro who has moved up from being 29th in the rankings at the start of the year to become one of the top seven players in the world list has not done enough to be classed as one of the top nine players in his own continent. But that's the European points system which, despite modifications, continues to favour those who stay faithful to the European Tour.

"From what I have heard Monty would just love to go down the world rankings list and pick his team that way, but that's not the case," he explained. "I have got to abide by the way they have chosen and for me, playing mainly over here, that means I have to be in the top four on the world points list. It's a tough team to make."

What Monty advises Donald if and when he calls will be interesting to discover, especially as Donald was the only one of the problem quartet who bothered to play at Celtic Manor at the Wales Open in June. And then comes the question of what he does with the Molinari brothers.

With Francesco up there on four-under and looking all but certain to secure his berth, Monty may have to decide if he can take one without the other. Edoardo, himself, is three-under and within sniffing distance of both lists. The pair won the World Cup for Italy last year and would obviously be a strong partnership. It is not wild to speculate that a big name could be jettisoned in favour of fraternal understanding, particularly as Monty has long expressed his belief that loyalty to the home tour should be rewarded.

On three-under after a third-round 70 last night, Casey needs a storming finish today to win the hundreds of thousands he requires to leap into and cement his place in the automatics. He was certainly too far off the pace to win the USPGA. With five holes remaining, the American Nick Watney was nine clear of the world No 9 on 12-under. His lead was two over Dustin Johnson and the 21-year-old Rory McIlroy. The young Ulsterman will have the opportunity of his life today to become the youngest winner of major in 13 years.

Woods was also on three-under and facing up to a blank year in the majors. He will almost definitely finish outside of the top eight who will qualify by right for the America team this evening. Corey Pavin will go with him as one of his four captain's picks. Alas, not one of Monty's selections are so nearly as straightforward.