Tiger Woods can pack his bags, he's coming to Newport. Corey Pavin admitted as much yesterday, saying he could not think of any reason not to select the world No 1 for the Ryder Cup.
With his eight automatic qualifiers decided in the extraordinary finale of the USPGA Championship on Sunday, attention turned to the four wildcards Pavin must decide on in the next three weeks. Make that three as Captain Pavin put the waiting world – and particularly the organisers at Celtic Manor trying to flog the remaining tickets – out of their misery. He was careful to add the caveats, but that's all they were. The fallen icon in 12th place on the table is, as they say over here, "a lock".
Asked about the pros and cons of picking Woods, Pavin said: "Tiger's the No 1 player in the world, which makes a pretty good pro. He's playing better and wants to play in the Ryder Cup. I don't think there are any cons."
The other three choices will not be so straightforward, although the feeling is that Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson and Anthony Kim will add the necessary experience to a team containing four rookies. Saying that, Pavin likes the make-up of his unit and, indeed, after a major which saw the young Americans rise up and show their quality, he has every right to. Suddenly the supposed European walkover is not looking such a formality.
One of the reasons for this is a European points race which threatens to end in acrimony. As he peered down the opposing list, Pavin agreed with the scale of the task facing a beleaguered Colin Montgomerie a week on Sunday when he must name his three wildcards an hour after the final qualifying event. "Colin's got a tough choice to make," he said. Exactly how tough is not only written large on the points charts but also in his prospective players' hearts.
On paper it looks like being a gripping chase between Miguel Angel Jimenez, Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington for the last two automatic spots. Alas on grass, two of those contenders have bizarrely pulled up at the furlong pole. Harrington won't bother to play in either of the last two qualifying events despite being a pathetically paltry £1,000 behind the Englishman and Casey won't bother to play in them to fend off the Irishman. And Jimenez, just £10,000 or so clear of the both of them, goes to the Czech Open this week and then the Johnnie Walker Championship next week, scarcely believing his luck.
In fact, it didn't matter where Casey and Harrington happened to be in the Ryder Cup scenario as neither had ever intended to travel to Gleneagles next week. The FedEx Cup series begins in New York and Harrington and Casey were teeing it up on Stateside regardless. Montgomerie discovered this when he approached them and Justin Rose and Luke Donald last week.
"I told Monty I wouldn't be in Scotland," confessed Casey. "I missed out on the FedEx Cup last year and the big goal from an individual standpoint is playing in the [US] Tour Championship, which I have never played in. Also I didn't want to risk burn-out by flying over to Britain and then having to fly back for the next week's play-off event. I had a chat with Colin and explained that and he wished me good luck."
This was the same rather selfish theme spookily trotted out to Monty by Harrington and Rose. There were even suspicions of some sort of "pact" being made between the trio. Originally, Donald also said he would be remaining in the US, but when he realised he would be knocked out as a result of Kaymer's glory he was not so unequivocal. In fact, the world No 10 is planning on phoning the captain for advice. Monty will take one look at the qualification charts and beg Donald to choose Auchterarder over the Big Apple.
Casey could be leapfrogged by a number of players. Ross McGowan, Edorardo Molinari, Alvaro Quiros, Simon Dyson... are just four who could turn Monty's headache into the most hideous of migraines within the next 12 days. There is a clear and present danger that come the evening of 29 August he may scan down the names who haven't secured their berths and see Donald, Rose, Harrington and Casey. Try picking three from that merry lot.
But his dilemma would not end there. Monty would risk mutiny from the rank and file of the European Tour who recall what he declared, among other occasions, at Celtic Manor in June. "Am I surprised that players aren't going over for the final event?" said Edoardo Molinari. "A little bit as Colin said he would expect all the players [wanting a wildcard] to play Gleneagles. I will play as I think it is good to show you are making an effort to make the team."
Casey, Harrington and Rose argue that they have made their effort. But they haven't. They've played their normal schedule and regarded the Ryder Cup as the add-on for their worldwide achievements. Casey and Harrington are outsiders to win the FedEx series, but will earn hundreds of thousands for simply turning up. They are in danger of being viewed as individuals putting the dollar before their continent. Already there is laughter on the range when the stay-aways call the Ryder Cup a "priority". Whatever the viewpoint it is unarguable that their decisions will put Montgomerie in what, at the very best, will be described as an uncomfortable position.
How embarrassing would it be for the Scot, as the tournament director of the Johnnie Walker, to sit there surrounded by pros who have shown the loyalty he demanded and pick three who haven't? Particularly as two years ago, he was apoplectic when Ian Poulter was selected after snubbing Gleneagles. The sympathy will be with the younger Molinari, who is only two spots outside the automatic places. There is logic in his corner as well as not only is he the world No 21 but his brother Francesco has all but cemented his place. The pair won the World Cup for Italy last year.
"Hopefully my good play this year is enough," said Edoardo. "I only started getting the points in January so it was very difficult for me as I lost four months last year. So I think to be the first guy [now the second] outside the automatic spots having only played eight months I hope is enough to make the team."
In private he is understood to accept that Monty will side with the supposed heavyweights. A few observers believe Robert Karlsson still has a squeak of a chance as Monty is known to admire the tall Swede. What is certain is that the 47-year-old will not be pleasing everyone with his selections, even some members of his own team. Seven weeks out the American team unity seems that much tighter than the European. The underdogs are running in a pack, the big dogs are chewing their own bones. Didn't it use to be the other way around?
Montgomerie's nightmare: Which three would he pick if these four fail to qualify by right?
Paul Casey Hanging on to the last automatic spot by just over €1,000 but is not even playing the last two events to defend his position
Padraig Harrington Could qualify easily if he returned to play in Europe, but is chasing FedEx Cup riches. Requires a wildcard
Luke Donald Martin Kaymer's USPGA success cost the Englishman his automatic spot. Is considering returning to Europe in a last-ditch bid to make the team
Justin Rose Cannot make the team automatically. Needs a captain's pick after opting to stay in America
Ryder Cup race
There are three ways to qualify for the European Ryder Cup team.
World Points List The four Europeans with the highest total in the World Points List on 29 August qualify automatically. Currently, the standings are as follows, though McDowell could be caught:
1. Lee Westwood 422.01
2. Rory McIlroy 316.95
3. Martin Kaymer 285.42
4. Graeme McDowell 249.35
5. Luke Donald 231.16
6. Edoardo Molinari 218.41
7. Ian Poulter 211.24
8. Padraig Harrington 204.97
9. Justin Rose 195.74
European Points List In addition to those four, the next five highest-placed from the European Tour qualify. Anyone from Jimenez down could be caught by the chasing pack listed below.
1. Lee Westwood 3,446,137.87
2. Martin Kaymer 2,638,282.58
3. Rory McIlroy 2,368,205.11
4. Graeme McDowell 2,307,041.47
5. Ian Poulter 2,238,874.06
6. Ross Fisher 1,708,614.67
7. Francesco Molinari 1,612,747.78
8. Miguel Angel Jimenez 1,499,775.38
9. Paul Casey 1,487,776.86
10. Padraig Harrington 1,486,529.63
11. Ross McGowan 1,394,257.79
12. Luke Donald 1,290,803.61
13. Alvaro Quiros1,286,402.75
14. Edoardo Molinari 1,260,055.69
15. Peter Hanson 1,247,377.44
16. Simon Dyson 1,230,300.48
Captain's wildcards: Also on 29 August, Colin Montgomerie chooses three final selections. But if four of the captain's favoured choices, thought to include Casey, Harrington, Donald and Rose, have not achieved automatic qualification, one of them will have to sit out the Ryder Cup.