Stephen Gallacher can pull off early Ryder Cup shock with top-two finish at the Italian Open
Scot will secure European place with top-two finish in Italy, giving captain a selection dilemma
Wednesday 27 August 2014
The Italian Open is not one of the golfing calendar’s more auspicious tournaments, but as it gets under way in Turin on Thursday, its ramifications may yet be felt all down the Ryder Cup greens and fairways of Gleneagles.
Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, 39 years old, and not among the brightest stars in the golfing firmament, knows that if he can finish in the top two, he will secure the final spot in Europe’s Ryder Cup team, and force captain Paul McGinley into an agonising decision.
Should Gallacher make it, McGinley will have to decide which of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter must be left behind.
The first nine places in the 12-man team are selected according to the European Points List and World Points List. Eight are already confirmed. None of the highly experienced and often inspirational English trio have made it. Nor has Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, who was not due to play this weekend in order to attend the birth of his first child, who was born on Monday.
But McDowell has been all but assured of one of McGinley’s three wildcard picks after strong form over the summer, if he needs it. If Gallacher does not finish in the top two in Turin, the final automatic place is McDowell’s in any case.
The Scotsman, who has never played in a Ryder Cup, knows that his destiny is in his own hands, but he has never played the course before. “To be a Scotsman who lives 35 miles from Gleneagles trying to get into the team brings a lot of hope and expectation and pressure, but most of all it is an exciting week for me,” he said.
“There are a lot of things on my mind this week. The most difficult thing for me this week is trying to focus just on the golf. If I play well and finish in the top two then I am a Ryder Cup player and that is something that I have dreamed about my whole life.”
Stephen is the nephew of Bernard Gallacher, who has captained the European Ryder Cup team three times, including at the Belfry in 1993, the last time the Americans won away.
Even if Gallacher doesn’t force McGinley’s hand, just his contention at this late stage will be enough to bring pause for thought.
The captain has promised to make this Ryder Cup “the loudest ever”. Gallacher is his only prospect of having a Scot in the team.
Dropping Ian Poulter might seem unthinkable after his five consecutive birdies at Medinah two years ago was the catalyst for the comeback of comebacks, and was just the most recent chapter in an extraordinary Ryder Cup career.
But in the two years since the Miracle of Medinah, Poulter has done very little to prove he is capable of anything like a repeat performance. He has not come close to a top-20 finish since tying for 17th at the US Open in June. He also lies 106th in the PGA Tour putting stats.
Westwood finished sixth at the Players’ Championship in May. That aside, his best result this season has been a share of 15th at the US PGA Championship at Valhalla.
With Welshman Jamie Donaldson having secured an unlikely place, Justin Rose is the only Englishman guaranteed to take part in a team whose members come from Sweden, Denmark, Spain, France, Germany, Wales and Northern Ireland.
McGinley and US captain Tom Watson have to name their wildcard picks on Tuesday.
Gallacher, who is currently ranked 34 in the world, is in much more encouraging form. He came seventh in the Czech Republic last Sunday, his fifth top-10 finish since he successfully defended the Dubai Desert Classic in February. In the opening two rounds he was paired with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, something he said he “embraced and enjoyed”, which can only be encouraging.
Gallacher will have to beat Italian brothers Francesco and Edoardo Molinari, once Ryder Cup players themselves. Other notable competitors this week include Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke.
The top four in the European Points List as of Sunday make the team, along with the top five on the World Points List not already qualified. Captain Paul McGinley selects the final three players.
European Points List top four
R McIlroy 5,537,075.35pts
H Stenson 2,893,568.55
V Dubuisson 2,880,182.84
J Donaldson 2,676,347.42
Next best in world standings
S Garcia 368.05pts
J Rose 287.38pts
M Kaymer 247.27
T Bjorn 206.34
G McDowell 171.82
L Donald 167.55
S Gallacher 160.61
I Poulter 150.62
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