Ryder Cup: Woosnam's crunch time

European captain faces 'the hardest decision of my life' in selecting his Ryder Cup wild cards, reports James Corrigan
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The Independent Online

Lee Westwood was lying in his sickbed on Tuesday morning, not sure whether he could get up to take his medicine for the tonsillitis picked up in America last week, let alone make it to Munich to compete in this, the final qualifying event for the Ryder Cup. And then his phone rang.

It was Ian Woosnam, the European captain. "Lee, I know you're ill but will you come over and play?" he asked. "In any other situation I would have stayed exactly where I was, I'm feeling that bad," croaked Westwood on the practice range of the Golfclub München yesterday. "But I really wanted to show him how much I want to make the team."

If Westwood's actions emphatically prove how committed the Englishman is to appearing at the Dublin dust-up in three weeks' time, then Woosnam's also go a long way to showing how desperate he is to have the right men in his corner. When he arrived at the BMW International Open earlier this week, he was struck by how uncertainly his supposedly certain squad was shaping up, and how choosing the two wild cards to complete his dozen on Sunday evening is anything but straightforward.

He let slip yesterday that Darren Clarke had told him he is available for selection after the loss of his wife, Heather, to cancer last month and his presence at the K Club on 22 September now seems a formality. Woosnam had thought that Jose Maria Olazabal's was, too, but some recent erratic play by the Spaniard, and by Paul McGinley, means both could drop out of the automatic placings if any of Paul Broadhurst, Johan Edfors, John Bickerton or Thomas Bjorn can achieve a high-enough finish in the European Tour event which begins today. If they do, Woosnam has a problem. And his entreaty to Westwood must be seen as his pre-emptive solution.

Woosnam must make a decision he yesterday admitted "will be the hardest I've ever made in my life". Olazabal has strangely opted to go hunting for quails near his home in Toledo this week, instead of on a search in Bavaria for the few qualifying points he would have needed to make his berth unarguable and Woosnam confessed here, "That makes Olly a bit vulnerable".

Despite not having played well enough this season to earn his own place in the top 10 of the standings, Westwood has been the star performer in the last couple of matches and Woosnam is an admirer. In an ideal world, he would and will have Westwood and Olazabal, but Woosnam knows better than any pampered professional this is no ideal world. The 48-year-old has always fought for whatever he has got and when he stepped into the media room yesterday he was determined to keep it close to his chest - the mentions of Olazabal and Clarke were not intended - and opted rather to outline what sort of captain he will be. The differences with his counterpart, Tom Lehman, were obvious.

Before a ball has even been struck, a gimme granted or a Ryder rumpus ignited, Lehman has already been hailed one of the finest Cup leaders of all-time. Where the Minnesotan has notched up most Brownie points is in his extraordinary efforts to make the Americans a unit - something they have plainly failed to be in three of the last four matches they have lost. But while Lehman wrote letters to every player who conceivably had a chance of qualifying, Woosnam has stayed so silent in his contact with the wannabes that Olazabal revealed last week that he has not spoken to him in three months. And now, most tellingly of all say Woosnam's critics, Lehman has persuaded all of his team, including Tiger Woods, to break the habits of several golf-playing lifetimes to make a two-day, unpaid reconnaissance trip across the Atlantic to Co Kildare. Woosnam has not yet had one team meeting.

The captain in question all but laughed about this yesterday. "It depends on what happens when the matches are actually being played - that's when we'll see whether their bonding has worked or not," Woosnam said. "We've always had that team spirit and one of my goals is to replicate all the positive things the captains have done in the matches before. We've always just got there on the Monday and we've always gelled." In other words, whereas Lehman will have had countless team talks by the time they assemble, Woosnam's will consist of, "Hello, lads - what you having?" If the spirit's not broken, why fix it?

Of course, that is being unfair to Woosnam, who will undoubtedly have so much more to his leadership. He insists that from Monday the real work will start and he claims to know all about his players, anyway. Woosnam asked the organisers to partner Luke Donald here these next two days and that will complete the set. He has also phoned around the men he believes will be his rocks and asked them who they want to play with. As McGinley said yesterday: "Did Bernard Langer send out letters, did he have bonding trips over to Oakland Hills? No, he didn't. And he was the most organised person in the whole world."

It is fair to say Woosnam is not, but it should also have been pointed out that he seems more knowing of his role than Lehman. The latter has sought counsel from as many former American captains as he could locate and even visited John Wooden, the legendary basketball motivator. And Woosnam? He has turned down help from those including Langer and solely taken advice from his two vice-captains, Peter Baker and Des Smyth. "Actually, I did have a chat with Sam Torrance [the 2002 winning captain] the other day," Woosnam said. "But he just said to trust my heart. I've got to make my own choices."

If the grapevine is correct - and it is screaming Clarke and Westwood - then Woosnam will do that with impunity come 7pm on Sunday. Bjorn will be disappointed, Ian Poulter will be disappointed, the others who just missed out will be disappointed and who knows, Olazabal and McGinley may be too. The phoney war will be over and Woosnam's reign will have started with a bang, with his finger on the button. The fiery pocket rocket would have it no other way.

Runners and Ryders: Entering the final furlong in race to qualify for the K Club

The first five Europeans in the world ranking points list qualify for the Ryder Cup team. The top five from the European points list, disregarding those already qualified, make up the remaining automatic picks. Players in capitals would be in the team if it was selected today.

RYDER CUP STANDINGS (Qualifying positions in capitals)

World ranking points list

1 LUKE DONALD (Eng) 235.36

2 SERGIO GARCIA (Sp) 225.89

3 HENRIK STENSON (Swe) 214.70

4 DAVID HOWELL (Eng) 211.36

5 JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL (Sp) 208.15

6 Colin Montgomerie (Scot) 207.88

7 Paul Casey (Eng) 182.81

EUROPEAN POINTS LIST

1 MONTGOMERIE 2435883.87

2 Howell 2314120.06

3 Garcia 1964354.95

4 ROBERT KARLSSON (Swe) 1930902.34

5 Stenson 1916750.86

6 CASEY 1915634.51

7 PADR'G HARRINGTON (Irl) 1562823.99

8 Donald 1506818.07

9 PAUL McGINLEY (Irl) 1499849.20

10 Olazabal 1446006.82

11 Paul Broadhurst (Eng) 1338473.33

12 Johan Edfors (Swe) 1294710.08

13 John Bickerton (Eng) 1170261.88

14 Thomas Bjorn (Den) 1166358.51

THE MEN IN CONTENTION FOR THE LAST AUTOMATIC PLACES

Jose Maria Olazabal

Current position: Fifth pick. Not playing in Germany, but OK if Colin Montgomerie fails to finish in the top 47 or Paul Casey is not in the top two since he will stay in fifth. Should Casey or Monty succeed, however, Olazabal will be knocked out of 10th place - and the other route for qualification - on the European points lists if Paul Broadhurst is in the top three, Johan Edfors in the top two or if John Bickerton or Thomas Bjorn win.

Padraig Harrington

(Ninth pick) Certain of place even if he misses the cut unless Broadhurst or Edfors wins and Paul McGinley is in the top six. Even then could be saved by the Olazabal situation.

Paul McGinley

(10th pick) Could be knocked out if Broadhurst or Edfors finishes first or second or if Bickerton wins.

Paul Broadhurst

(11th position) Has to finish in top three to have a chance.

Johan Edfors

(12th position) Has to finish in top two to have a chance.

John Bickerton

(13th position) Has to win to have a chance.

Thomas Bjorn

(14th position) Has to win to have a chance.

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