McGinley plans final assault on Ryder place

 

Poor finishes in his last two tournaments have seriously weakened Paul McGinley's prospects of making September's Ryder Cup team. And clinging precariously to 10th position in the table, he knows it.

During a break this week, when he is opting out of the Scandinavian Masters, the Dubliner is hoping to regain a productive focus before the final, four-tournament assault on the qualifying table. The team, comprising 10 automatic places and two wild cards, will be announced after the BMW International Open in Munich on Sunday, September 2nd.

With the qualification of Bernhard Langer virtually sealed through his victory in the Dutch Open last weekend, it can be taken that 10 places from the 12-man line-up are effectively decided. They are: Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harrington, Pierre Fulke, Lee Westwood, Niclas Fasth, Langer and Colin Montgomerie, who fill the top eight places in the table.

And it can be taken that skipper Sam Torrance has decided now on Jesper Parnevik and Sergio Garcia as his two wild cards. So, only two qualifying places remain to be filled, and the prime candidates are Phillip Price, McGinley, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Andrew Coltart. Ian Woosnam is also a challenger, though he has considerable ground to make up.

"I'm very disappointed at my inability to post a decent finishing round over the last few weeks," said McGinley yesterday. "In fact the problem goes back to Loch Lomond, where a bogey on the 72nd cost me the difference between second and third place-money, which was £90,000 (sterling)."

That was followed by a closing 76 which pushed him down to a share of 54th place in the British Open at Royal Lytham. Then came the Dutch Open where, after lifting himself into contention for a high finish through a third round 67 on Saturday, he proceeded to slip to a 75 on Sunday for a share of 40th place.

"I have to remain optimistic," he went on. "An awful lot can happen over the next few tournaments and I know what I have to do. For a start, I must aim for a top-five finish in the Wales Open at Celtic Manor next week. Then, in the USPGA, I have to aim at my best-ever finish in a major championship (which was tied 14th in the 1996 British Open)."

Around this time every two years, the Ryder Cup becomes something of a media circus. And one suspects that where his challenge for the team is concerned, McGinley might be better advised to concentrate on his world ranking position. It can be taken that if he succeeds in his long-time objective of getting into the top-50 in the world, Ryder Cup qualification will take care of itself.

He has already made the necessary travelling arrangements to compete in the WGC NEC Invitational the week following the USPGA at Atlanta Athletic Club on August 16th to 19th. But under a new arrangement, he will get into the Firestone field only if he is in the top 12 of the European Ryder Cup table after Atlanta.

On his debut at Firestone last year, he overcame a moderate start to claim 23rd place and $60,000 in prize money after a closing 67.

Though a drop out of the top-12 in the Ryder Cup table would be ominous, it is debatable whether McGinley's prospects would be further weakened by an absence from the NEC line-up. For instance, he would need to finish in the top-eight at Firestone to earn the same money as the winner in Scotland. And the quality of the fields are rather different.

Langer's qualification will be welcomed, primarily because he happens to have a very good Ryder Cup record. But a real bonus is his adaptability as a playing partner.

In nine Ryder Cup appearances, the German has had no fewer than 12 partners: Manuel Pinero, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Canizares, Sandy Lyle, Ken Brown, Ronan Rafferty, Mark James, Montgomerie, Woosnam, Barry Lane, Per-Ulrik Johansson and David Gilford.

"I have plenty of drive left in me, even though I am 43 years old," he said after Sunday's win. "I'm not done with this game and hopefully I can stay healthy enough and continue to enjoy it for a few more years."

Ireland will have only three competitors at Barseback this week, where Lee Westwood is defending the title: Clarke, David Higgins and former winner, Rafferty.

Irish positions in the Order of Merit: 2 Darren Clarke £793,997; 5 Padraig Harrington £633,332; 15 Paul McGinley £364,449; 64 Des Smyth £124,871; 127 Eamonn Darcy £50,295; 143 David Higgins £38,455; 158 Philip Walton £29,885.