Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and other wildcard options for the European Ryder Cup team

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With Thorbjorn Olesen securing the final automatic qualifying place in Europe’s Ryder Cup team and Matt Wallace winning his third tournament of the year, European captain Thomas Bjorn had quite a difficult decision for his four wildcard picks over the next two days.

Here, we take a look at the main contenders for the four spots.

IAN POULTER

He knows how to perform under pressure and has enjoyed a sparkling season, with a win at the Houston Open and top six finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic and WGC Match Play.

The Hertfordshire native has already summoned that Ryder Cup spirit, with recent solid displays at the Canadian Open (T12) and WGC Bridgestone Invitational (T10).

With a 12-4-2 record from five Ryder Cup appearances, it is likely that Bjorn will call on the five-time winner to inspire his side to success against a dominant American team.

HENRIK STENSON

Beat Jordan Spieth in the final day singles at Hazeltine having lost three of his previous four matches.

Solid throughout 2018, the Swede has recorded two top-5s and four top-10s, including a T5 finish at the Masters and T6 at the US Open.

His experience and leadership will be crucial to the team, and his accuracy off the tee – ranked number one in 3-wood accuracy on PGA Tour stats – gives Bjorn plenty of options.

Imagine the prospect of Stenson and Alex Noren or Justin Rose lining up on the first at Le Golf National together?

PAUL CASEY

The Englishman struggled with a back injury earlier this year but will be one of the hopefuls to secure a wildcard berth.

At 40, his last appearance in the Ryder Cup was 10 years ago in 2008 but he is a known inspirational presence on the course.

Although he failed to win a match in Valhalla all those years ago, his form over the last six months should be enough to seal a place, with a win at the Valspar Championship, T2 at the Travelers Championship and top-15 finishes at the US Open and Masters among his notable results.

Could get selected ahead of Garcia – who has missed seven cuts this year.

THOMAS PIETERS

The Belgian was in sensational form on his Ryder Cup debut in 2016, scoring four points and forging a formidable partnership with Rory McIlroy.

However, he has failed to build on that sparkling form and has struggled for large spells of this year, with only one top-5 and three top-10s in 20 starts.

But, the 26-year-old may have done enough for selection, based on his T6 finish at the PGA Championship in August.

Whatever the case it’s Pieters, along with Garcia, who will give Bjorn the biggest selection headache.

SERGIO GARCIA

If the wildcards are selected on form, then Garcia should in no way be in the conversation for one of Bjorn’s picks.

But, his experience of playing in eight editions of the biennial event could perhaps see him be picked ahead of other in-form players.

The Spaniard has collected 22.5 Ryder Cup points and boasts a 19-11-17 record since making his debut back in 1999.

After missing seven cuts this season, including all four at the majors and failing to qualify for the FedEX Cup playoffs, could the 38-year-old turnaround his form just in time on golf’s biggest stage?

RAFA CABRERA-BELLO

The Spaniard was the only undefeated European at Hazeltine back in 2016.

In the World Points list this year, he finished behind Poulter and ahead of Casey, Stenson, Garcia and Pieters.

He also made the cut in all four majors, including a stunning final round 64 to finish in a tie for tenth at the PGA Championship.

At the Wydnham Championship, the 31-year-old finished with rounds of 65 and 64 to secure a T11 finish.

A solid season so far for the Dubai resident.

MATT WALLACE

There is no better way to boost your chances for selection then by winning the final Ryder Cup qualifying event in Denmark.

The London native birdied five of the last six holes at Silkeborg, then both in the play-off, to secure his third victory of 2018 on Sunday.

He may not be a household name like Stenson, Poulter or Garcia, but his ruthless streak of four wins over the past 16 months is not something to overlook.

The 28-year-old has certainly put himself in the selection conversations based on his scintillating form this year, but with five rookies already in his side, it is unlikely Bjorn will want any more.

There is no doubt Wallace will play Ryder Cup golf in the future, but this edition of the competition may prove too soon for the World No76.

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Matt Wallace presses claims for Ryder Cup wild card with Made in Denmark win

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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.

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Thomas Bjorn wants to see European players vying for Ryder Cup 'take control'

Phil Casey 29/08/2018
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European captain Thomas Bjorn wants his Ryder Cup hopefuls to “take control” of their destiny in the final qualifying event at his home club in Denmark.

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.”

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