Nick Dougherty was brave enough to articulate what most were thinking here on the range yesterday as the news circulated of Ian Poulter's late withdrawal from this week's Johnnie Walker Championship. "All I can think of is that he's been given the nod," said Dougherty. And so the great Ryder Cup conspiracy theory gathered momentum. True or not true it has given the build-up to Nick Faldo's wildcards announcement on Sunday night a fascinating edge.
Poulter's decision to play in the Deutsche Bank Championship this week was always going to cause a collective raising of the eyebrows, particularly as he still had a very live chance of qualifying for Faldo's team automatically if he had, as planned, travelled over to Perthshire. A fifth-place finish here could have been enough to leapfrog the Englishman into the last qualifying position and so allow Faldo to go with the obvious picks of Paul Casey and a resurgent Darren Clarke. So why stay away?
The golfing world has only come up with two answers: first, Poulter has raised the white flag; and second, Poulter knows something the rest don't. Many here have already widely agreed that the flamboyant Englishman, the golfing street-fighter, is as likely to raise a white flag as he is to start wearing beige and, to them, that leaves only one explanation. And it is one that could just land Faldo in the middle of a storm when he eventually turns up at Gleneagles on Sunday lunchtime.
Not that Dougherty is ready to lambast the six-time major champion. Indeed, Faldo is his mentor. The young Liverpudlian was merely saying what he, and others such as Oliver Wilson – the player currently in the last qualifying spot – take to be the logical justification for Poulter's baffling actions.
"When I saw Ian's name down, I was impressed he was coming back," said Dougherty, who is himself in with a squeak of taking Wilson's place should he finish in the top two this week. "I've always thought Ian made his plans depending on his conversations with Nick."
Poulter admitted in his statement on Monday evening that he had phoned Faldo to tell him of his decision and he has admitted before that he has been in regular contact with the captain. That obviously has its implications, just as do Poulter's original declarations of his desire to make the team by right. After coming second at The Open at Birkdale last month, he said: "I don't want to rely on a pick. I don't want to put any pressure on Nick. Nick is going to have enough pressure as it is without me telephoning in before a pick." Curiouser and curiouser.
What certainly seems possible to discount is Poulter's own reason for teeing it up in Boston this week, at a tournament that does not finish until Monday and can therefore have no relevance in this last lap of the Ryder Cup race. The 32-year-old talked of his need to play two more tournaments in America to fulfil the quota of 15 events required to keep his PGA Tour card. There are several tournaments he could play after the Ryder Cup, two of which are just up the road from his Florida home. Surely that cannot be his priority at the moment.
In contrast, there can be no doubting Justin Rose's priority. He is playing at Gleneagles, and forsaking the benefits of the FedEx Series, to make sure of his spot, although the maths show it would take a remarkable set of events to see Rose drop out from eighth place. Such commitment has inevitably earned him respect among his peers; from Dougherty who said, "I think what Justin is doing is the right thing to do", to Clarke, who pointed out the sacrifices Rose has made by missing the lucrative FedEx Series. Clarke was careful not to criticise Poulter, despite the burgeoning belief that the Ulsterman will be the one who suffers most come deadline evening.
Dougherty, however, does not agree. He clearly thinks Paul Casey will miss out. "Ian seems the obvious pick to me and after last week, Darren the obvious second pick, although Paul may not agree," said Dougherty referring to Clarke's four-stroke win in the Netherlands. "I played with Darren in the first two rounds and he was special. He is hitting it superbly."
What must be taken into account in all this conjecture and whispering, however, is the fact that Faldo is very much is own man, who has probably never lost so much as a minute's sleep when upsetting anybody, no matter what they may believe. Would he care what anyone might say should he decide to give a wildcard to a player who never bothered to return to his own country to qualify by right? Would he ever be prepared to renege on what one player may have taken as a guarantee? No and yes. Be sure, the intrigue over the next few days will only intensify.Reuse content