Late on Friday afternoon at Nord Eichenreid, Jose Maria Olazabal walked on to the 18th tee 10 under par for his round. Due to a hold-up by the green, Sam Torrance, who was playing in the group in front, was still on the tee. "Well done," Torrance told the Spaniard. "Good playing."
This evening the message will be more like: "Good playing, hard luck." Olazabal is likely to miss the Ryder Cup for only the second time since 1987. Tony Jacklin had no hesitation in picking Olazabal as a rookie that year and he has been selected by the captain on three other occasions, including 1995, when he later had to withdraw due to a foot injury. But not this time, when Torrance, the European captain, will need to use his two wild cards on Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik.
Garcia, like Olazabal, still has a chance of making the team automatically by winning the BMW International today. But Torrance has taken the precaution of guaranteeing him a place. The 21-year-old is the European highest in the world rankings and his game has flourished after winning twice in America. All the non-football talk in Munich this week – last night's match dominated conversations for days, admittedly – has been about who will fill the other spot.
"Parnevik must be the hot favourite, followed by Jimenez and Olazabal," said Padraig Harrington. "That's what the thinking seems to be." Parnevik is the seventh best European in the world but admits he has struggled slightly this year after a hip operation at the end of last season.
That Jimenez should be next on the list from the players' point of view reflects the solidity of the Spaniard's game and character. But Torrance would be unlikely to pick him ahead of Olazabal, given Ollie's vast experience.
While Garcia and Parnevik play virtually full-time in the States, Olazabal spent much of the early season there. "I don't regret itbecause if I had played to the level I can, I had enough tournaments to make the team," he said. "I don't have thoughts of a wild card. But I can still play to a high level and hopefully there will be more Ryder Cups."
Had Torrance not been forced to select two of his best players – it should not be forgotten that Garcia and Parnevik combined to win three and a half points out of four in the foursomes and fourballs at Brookline two years ago – his choice would be wide and interesting.
Olazabal and Ian Woosnam – who might have been in the team but for an arithmetical error at the Open and his two-shot penalty for having an extra club – would head the list of those whose consistency may be lacking but are players for the big occasion. Paul Lawrie, the leading European points scorer at Brookline, has the "heart and bottle" Torrance is looking for, as do Jimenez and Per-Ulrik Johansson, who was second at the halfway stage of the Air Canada Championship.
It would not be too fanciful to suggest that, under slightly different circumstances, Torrance's two names could be Paul Casey and Luke Donald. Casey won his first European Tour event at the Scottish PGA last week to move up to 27th on the Ryder Cup rankings. "I saw Sam on Thursday morning and he asked me where I was on the list," Casey said.
"I thought that was funny because if anyone should know Sam should, but when I said I was too far down to get in, he said: 'You never know'." Casey won four points out of four in the Walker Cup at Nairn two years ago and had already secured his card for next season from invitations this summer.
Donald stayed amateur to feature in a second Walker Cup victory at Sea Island last month and finished with seven wins and one defeat from his two appearances. His first two professional appearances have resulted in missed cuts but narrowly so. Like Casey and Ian Poulter, last year's rookie of the year who has just failed to qualify this time, Donald will be pushing for Ryder Cup honours in the future and the next time could be very different.
As for this year's match, there is a growing feeling that the Americans are not as strong as they look on paper, and that Europe will be more than the sum of their parts.
"The team looks strong," said Danish player Thomas Bjorn. "It has been a while since we have had that many players at the peak of their careers. We can mix and match pairings and if someone is not playing well, we have no problem putting someone else in."Reuse content