Thomas Pieters birdied the last three holes to claim a one-shot victory in the Made in Denmark event in Farso on Sunday.
The Belgian’s excellence gives European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke a headache, with the Northern Irishman to name his wildcard picks by Tuesday.
Pieters carded a six-under-par 65 to take his third European Tour title on 17 under par overall.
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Sport360’s James Piercy and Joy Chakravarty debate.
James Piercy, Deputy Editor, says YES
The cliche, ‘driving for show, putting for dough’ was flipped on its head by Thomas Pieters as it was his performance on the greens which displayed one of many reasons he should be Darren Clarke’s final captain’s pick.
With Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer near-certainties to travel to Hazeltine, the Belgian has done everything he can to earn the third wildcard position.
The four-footer he sank on the 18th to win the Made in Denmark was not a particularly remarkable putt visually, nor especially tough in a technical sense. But it was the context behind it which reveals so much about Pieters’ temperament.
Because, rightly or wrongly, the thought process that must have been going round in his head: hole this and I’m in.
Clarke’s not going to select a man on one shot but given what was theoretically riding on it, it could be the tipping point.
The Made in Denmark, though, is not an isolated success as Pieters has three straight top 10s, with his second place at the Czech Masters and fourth in the Olympics. In those 12 rounds he’s been over par just once – a freakish 77 in the third round in Rio – with a brilliant average score of 68.
These are numbers that will be catching Clarke’s eye maybe more so than the 18th in Farso. Pieters’ desire to make the team also saw him fly back from Rio to compete in back-to-back tournaments. A dedication that will do his chances no harm.
By accident or design, Pieters was able to play alongside Clarke for the opening two rounds in Denmark. His 10-birdie 62 must have left the captain impressed while the Ulsterman was in position to get a perfect grasp of his character.
The case against Pieters essentially forms around his results in America – his best being a 76th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – and that he’s another rookie in a team with five first-time players already confirmed. But with just two appearances as a professional in America, it’s difficult to level that against him.
While the issue of inexperience will form the basis for most of the reasons why Europe won’t win but as golf commentator Ken Brown noted: “Going with form has produced more points than going with experience.”
Joy Chakravarty, Regional Editor, says NO
During the 2015 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf, I was so impressed with Thomas Pieters’ ball-striking at the practice range, I picked him up as my dark horse. The tall Belgian did not disappoint, securing the best finish of his short career until then, tied fourth and just three shots behind champion Gary Stal.
To have risen to world No54 in less than two years – in fact, he is expected to move inside the top-40 after his win – and to be contending for a place in the Ryder Cup, it’s been a remarkable rise for the big-hitting Pieters.
Of course, he is also displaying great form recently. He finished fourth in the Olympics, followed by second in Czech Masters and the win in Denmark, where he would have surely wowed his playing partner in the first two rounds, European captain Darren Clarke.
The question then, is whether he has done enough to warrant a place in Clarke’s team that will travel to Hazeltine in the last week of September?
Pieters would have been a lock, if not for the fact that out of the nine players who have qualified automatically for the team, five are Ryder Cup rookies.
The widely-held belief is that Clarke will opt for Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer because of their experience, and then decide on his third wildcard on the basis of recent form.
If that is the case, it is a straight fight between Pieters and Russell Knox, who would have easily made it to the team if his biggest win last year – at the WGC-HSBC Champions – had come as a European Tour member.
The Scotsman has much more going for him than Pieters. Knox has based himself in the US for the past seven years and is extremely comfortable with the courses and crowd. He is ranked 20th in the world, and his recent form is not bad, having won the Travelers Championship a few weeks ago.
It would have been ideal for Clarke to pick his three wildcards on the basis of form. That would have taken Westwood out of the equation.
But given the unique pressure of Ryder Cup, six rookies with six experienced players is the best balance.
And with that in mind, Pieters may have to wait for two more years.