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Luke Donald faces Team Europe selection headache as Ryder Cup looms large

Like Hannibal, Luke Donald is gathering his forces before crossing the Alps and marching on Rome. Donald is tracking from the east rather than the west and is packing no elephants. He is however lining up at the D+D Real Czech Masters in Prague with three of his generals before heading south via Swiss ski resort Crans Montana, where Europe’s Ryder Cup qualifying window closes next week at the Omega European Masters.

The remaining two qualifying events offer Donald and vice captains, Francesco Molinari, Edoardo Molinari and Nicolas Colsaerts close-quarters assessments of the candidates outside the automatic qualifying spots. Though Donald has half a dozen picks to add to the six that will automatically qualify, at least half of those are already pencilled in, arguably more, leaving space for one or maybe two mind-bending displays to sway Europe’s skipper from a plan all-but formed.

Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland are already qualified, shortly to be joined automatically by two of Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick from the World points list, leaving only one of the six automatic spots to fill from the European points list. Robert MacIntyre is the incumbent but with packed fields this week is vulnerable to stellar efforts by Germany’s Yannik Paul and Poland’s Adrian Meronk.

Even if MacIntyre fades he arguably falls into the same bankers category as Shane Lowry, who is making his debut in Prague, Fitzpatrick and Justin Rose. If he holds on to the automatic spot Donald has three places to fill.

One of those is likely to be taken by Austria’s Sepp Straka, who is among the elite 30-man field contesting the Fed-Ex Cup finale at the Tour Championship in Atlanta this week. If the thread plays out as outlined above two golfers are playing for a trip to the Eternal City.

“There are still some spots up for grabs,” Donald said. “I’m encouraging all of the players to show me something. A lot of them have played well and given themselves an opportunity, and if they keep playing well, I’m going to be forced to keep a good eye on them.”

Paul and Meronk have consistency on their side. Sweden’s Alex Noren has Ryder Cup experience and a PGA Tour card to vouch for him. Denmark’s Hojgaard brothers Rasmus and Nicolai are highly rated and wild card possibilities alongside Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg and Alex Fitzpatrick, brother of Matt.

A clue to the thinking of the Ryder Cup high command can be seen in the pairings. Donald will spend the first two days in the company of MacIntyre, who has not been in the best form since losing out to McIlroy at the Scottish Open last month. Francesco Molinari is grouped with Nicolai Hojgaard and Aberg in what could become a shoot-out.

Ditto Edoardo Molinari, who has eyes on Rasmus Hojgaard and Paul. Lowry is paired with Meronk, while former Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington will doubtless have a word or two for Donald about the suitability of outsider Adrian Otaegui of Spain.

Donald will name his squad on 4 September. A week later following the Horizon Irish Open Donald will head to Rome with the European team to recce the Marco Simone course ahead of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, where the European players will contest their final tournament before departing for Italy.

Ryder Cup teams

Q = Qualified. Players in bold and italics are currently in line to play.

Three players from the European points list qualify, followed by the top three on the World points list not already qualified.

European points list

  • 1st Rory McIlroy Q (4,033.5)
  • 2nd Jon Rahm Q (3,417.23)
  • 3rd Robert MacIntyre (1,743.57)
  • 4th Yannik Paul (1,652.9)
  • 5th Adrian Meronk (1614.21)

World points list

  • 1st Rory McIlroy (399.29)
  • 2nd Jon Rahm (392.72)
  • 3rd Viktor Hovland Q (321.67)
  • 4th Tyrrell Hatton (199.17)
  • 5th Tommy Fleetwood (180.52)

Donald has had an active role in preparing the course and expects the familiar surroundings to be to Europe’s advantage. “It’s just finding little things that we might be a little bit better at. Are we a little straighter off the tee? Do we need more rough? We have a template that’s been pretty successful, and we won’t go too far away from that,” Donald told Sports Illustrated.

“It’s nice to have some ability to have some say in how the course is set up. Those conversations started when I was appointed captain. I think the advantage comes from being on a course that we’ve played a few times in the Italian Open. We know how it plays; we have familiarity with it. We know the demands.

“I think that’s the main advantage for us, [and] having the crowd behind us. That was lacking a couple years ago. It will be a lot louder for us. It will be great for those who have not yet experienced a home Ryder Cup.”

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