Matt Wallace made an impressive case for a Ryder Cup wild card with a third win in his last 15 starts, a victory completed in dramatic fashion in front of captain Thomas Bjorn in the final qualifying event.
Wallace birdied five of his last six holes to finish 19 under par and get into an all-English four-man play-off with Lee Westwood, Steven Brown and Jonathan Thomson at the Made in Denmark event at Bjorn’s home course in Silkeborg.
The quartet returned to the 18th for the first extra hole and Brown piled the pressure on his opponents with an approach to three feet, but Wallace hit his to seven feet and both made birdie, while Westwood and Thomson were eliminated with pars.
Wallace and Brown then headed back to the par-four 18th and Wallace produced an even better approach to set up a winning birdie from four feet as Bjorn looked on.
Bjorn’s fellow Dane Thorbjorn Olesen had earlier secured the final automatic place on the team to face the United States at Le Golf National at the end of the month when Matt Fitzpatrick was unable to claim the victory he needed.
Fitzpatrick could only finish in a tie for seventh despite back-to-back rounds of 66 over the weekend and joins the likes of Wallace, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Rafa Cabrera Bello in anxiously waiting to see Bjorn’s four wild card selections on Wednesday.
Asked if his win had given Bjorn a selection headache, Wallace said: “I’ve given myself one! That play-off was pretty mental, four-man, to keep the 100 per cent record going as well from the one in India (where he beat Andrew Johnston) is really nice.
“To do it in the style I’ve done it, I’ve birdied the last five holes including the two play-off holes, is pretty special. That just shows who I am right there, my determination, my grit and that’s what I’m all about.”
Olesen, who surged into Ryder Cup contention with a victory and four other top 10s in his last nine events before this week, said: “It’s been an incredible summer, a lot of pressure but I’ve been playing well and it’s been a lot of fun.
“I’ve watched the Ryder Cup since I was six or seven years old and it looks special. Two years ago I got a bit of the experience watching it all from Thomas’ buggy and I think that will help me a little bit.
“It’s going to be a great team and hopefully we can get the trophy back to Europe.”
Olesen joins fellow rookies Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren in the side alongside Open champion Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy.
Seven players are guaranteed a place in the team for September’s contest against the United States, with Thorbjorn Olesen in pole position to join Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and Alex Noren at Le Golf National.
Olesen occupies the final automatic qualifying place and can make certain of a Ryder Cup debut with a top-six finish at the Made in Denmark event, with England’s Eddie Pepperell and Matt Fitzpatrick needing to win and hope the Dane finishes down the leaderboard.
“It always comes down to the last qualifying event that somebody can do something so as a captain you want to see them go out and take control of the situation,” Bjorn, who will play the first two rounds alongside Pepperell and Martin Kaymer, told Sky Sports News.
“Eddie and Fitz have a lot to do in the way they need to win the golf tournament so it’s a big ask, but they are very capable of doing that. You’ve just got to sit on the sidelines and have a good look at it. It’s going to be interesting.”
Fitzpatrick, who lost both of his matches at Hazeltine in 2016, won the second qualifying event in Switzerland in September but has recorded just two top 10 finishes in 2018.
“It’s been my main goal to make the team all year but at the same time if it doesn’t happen, I’ve not played well enough to get myself on that team and that’s just the way it is,” the 23-year-old said. “I know what I need to do and it’s pretty simple really.
“Having the experience that I had (in 2016), not playing as much as I would have liked was obviously very disappointing after qualifying for the team, so it would be nice to make amends for that, particularly given that the team this year looks considerably different to the team last time.”
Olesen admits it is hard to avoid thinking about the Ryder Cup after a brilliant run of form this summer vaulted him into contention, but believes playing in front of a home crowd could work in his favour.
“It makes it easier to play this because it’s such a big event,” the 28-year-old said. “It’s an event I’ve dreamed of winning since we started it so that’s what I am trying to do, see if I can put myself in good position on Sunday and have a chance on the last eight or nine holes.”
Olesen will play the first two rounds alongside vice-captain Lee Westwood and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, who is hoping to repeat his 2016 win in this event to boost his chances of a wild card.
“I did it last time but there’s so many good players trying to get in that are a lot closer than me as well, but a win or something close could do well here,” Pieters admitted.
Bjorn has four wild cards at his disposal but at least five strong candidates, with Pieters, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson all in need of a favour from the European captain.
“The idea of the picks is to be able to pick people that are coming into form and Thomas is probably coming into form more than anybody so it will be nice to have a look at him on the last week of qualification,” Westwood said.
“I played with him that first match (at Hazeltine) and didn’t play particularly well or he could have come out of it with five wins. His performance was brilliant that week, he certainly upped his game and looked very comfortable playing with Rory (McIlroy) so there’s a lot of positives on Thomas’ side really.”
Garcia’s poor recent form is more of a concern but Westwood added: “Sergio has played average going into Ryder Cups before and then when it comes round he really loves that atmosphere and ups his game and becomes a different player.
“Sergio is a tricky one because of his form but also because of the way he does play at Ryder Cups and his record.”
In the old days it was duels between Couples v Watson, Hogan v Snead and Norman v Faldo. Now later this year, it’s Tiger Woods v Phil Mickelson, a one-on-one match many want to see but perhaps two men a decade past their best form.
The showdown – dubbed ‘The Match’ – will take place in November at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas with a winner-takes-all purse for the victor over one round, estimated to be around $9million.
Woods and Mickelson, the two richest golfers of their generation, rank first and second on the career prize money leaderboard (with $112.2m and $87.6m respectively), yet neither man will provide his own money for this exhibition match. In fact, the mammoth pot on offer for the winner is financed from sponsors KPMG and Nike.
And for all the media hype circulating, the reality is both players are long past their peak years and just merely cashing in while they can.
Woods, who has 14 major titles in the bank, is clearly the most decorated golfer of the modern era behind the great Jack Nicklaus and even despite his recent upturn in fortunes at the PGA Championship in Bellerive earlier this month, has not tasted that winning feeling at any event since the Bridgestone Invitational in 2013.
Similarly, Mickelson, a five-time major champion who is currently ranked at World No22, has diminished as a force in recent years. He triumphed at the WGC-Mexico Championship back in March but that was his first tour success in five years.
Neither are in the top eight for Team USA ahead of September’s Ryder Cup showpiece in Paris, with the two golfers relying on captain Jim Furyk for two of the remaining four captain picks.
There is no doubt 42-year-old Woods and Mickelson, 48, are class acts and can pull a crowd on any given day, but it’s difficult to say how this set is up to be a genuine spectacle.
For both Americans, driving used to be their bread and butter but recent statistics show that is no longer the case, with Woods ranked 175th and Mickelson at 199th in the PGA Tour driving accuracy percentage rankings.
And what makes this so-called pairing more ambitious is the fact it’s only available on pay-per-view television. A price has not been announced yet for viewers, but the PPV aspect is a surprise considering every golf tournament is mostly aired live on network or cable television.
While boxing, MMA and wrestling have long been separate paid for entities, this golf exhibition has the potential to be a huge flop.
Nobody is going to pay a fee to watch just 18 holes of golf. Add in a possible eventuality that either Mickelson or Woods could pull away during the round, then quickly, it might become a one-sided contest and make for seriously poor viewing, leaving disappointment among the paying punters.
But even if it isn’t a success, the winner will still leave Sin City with a substantial jackpot fee – and no doubt, the loser with a hefty appearance cheque from the sponsors and commercial partners involved.
As a fan of both players, not putting this spectacle on free to air television and seeing the golfers put their own money to the cause, ruins the essence of what otherwise could be an intriguing battle.
If this match was played 15 years ago, it might interest more people, but it’s difficult to agree or be excited with this when neither are in the top echelon of players in the world at the moment – and will most likely not win a major again.
A $9m pot is sure to spark the interest of any golfer or sports person but ask any top player in the world and they would choose a green jacket or major win any day of the week over a short-term PPV bank balance booster.
For all the fun and hype it may create, it’s difficult to be enthused by the concept and it actually makes a mockery of a game built on tradition, sportsmanship and passion for the game over financial reward.