BY Sunday evening we will know the full roster of the European team which will seek to defend the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits later this month. As things stand, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood and Shane Lowry are on track to make Padraig Harrington’s team.
For the likes of Bernd Wiesberger, Victor Perez and Robert MacIntyre – all of them potential debutants – you would think they need something spectacular this week to jump into those top nine places in the qualifying rankings. Why so? Well, Harrington is on record as saying that there is statistical proof that inexperienced wildcard picks feel under pressure to prove their captain correct – and as a consequence falter.
That’s a pretty big hint that the likes of Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia (who is not playing this week, contrary to Harrington’s request) will hold the aces: Harrington knows exactly what they bring to the table and he also knows that they justified the faith Thomas Bjorn placed in them two years ago.
Not that the Ryder Cup is the only important matter this week – there’s a pretty important title up for grabs, too, and the fans are back. There’s even the prospect of a mini-heatwave. We’re set for a great week.
This is a tournament that Englishman Justin Rose holds very dear, a consequence of its heritage and his memories of visiting the course as a boy to watch his heroes. Four years ago he said of it: “This is a top six or seven tournament in the world for me including the major championships.” And last year he added to that notion by saying: “The BMW PGA Championship is what I've always called a bucket list tournament.”
Given all that excitement it probably rankles that he’s landed six top 15 finishes here, including twice being the runner-up, but never won. He’s got a decent chance of finally lifting the trophy this week, but I’d suggest an even better chance of making a fast start, something he’s been doing in the events that matter to him. Earlier this year he said: “I’ve thought to myself ‘What do I want from my career nowadays?’ No disrespect to any other competition, but what drives me now is majors, Ryder Cups, the Olympics.”
And what has happened in the last year and a bit? In the majors he’s got off to quick starts (third after round one in last year’s PGA Championship, sixth and first in the Masters, ninth in the Open). He is currently on the brink of getting a Ryder Cup pick (a good week will go a long way toward securing that goal). The Olympics have gone, but this bucket list event might make up for that. In his last 13 championship visits, he would have landed a result four times in this market, including a tied first in 2007.
— Justin ROSE (@JustinRose99) September 6, 2021
The chances of the Italian being reunited with Tommy Fleetwood in this year’s Ryder Cup look exceptionally slim, but it really would not surprise me if he enjoyed himself this week. Three and a half years ago he rocked up to Wentworth off the back of a missed cut at Sawgrass and won the title, a week that kickstarted a year of glory which took in a first win on the PGA Tour, Open triumph, Ryder Cup record=breaking efforts and a second win in America.
He loves the West Course and has landed a top 10 in six of his last eight visits – and even two years ago, on defence, he was only two shots from making it seven in eight. He’s also found a little bit of form in the last fortnight – he got off to a slow start in Crans (72) but made the cut with a 64. And last week he spent the first 36 holes inside the top 25. Another top 10 finish is not out of the question for the popular Italian this week.
It’s been a solid year on the course for Branden Grace. In February he revived his fortunes Stateside with victory in the Puerto Rico Open and, after a period of consolidation afterwards, he spent much of the summer contending for the majors – he was fifth after 54 holes at the PGA Championship and seventh in the US Open. He was also fourth in the Memorial Tournament and second at the Wyndham Championship.
The South African also owns a really solid record around the West Course, missing just one cut in eight starts, and he has four times finished T11th or better. He was fifth on debut in 2012, ninth in 2017 and fifth again in 2018. Notably, he was top four on all three occasions with 18 holes to play. This is a really nice price for someone who knows how to get into contention here and is a nine-time winner on the European Tour.