Monty's gamble as Harrington edges Casey
Eduardo Molinari effectively shoved Paul Casey out of the European Ryder Cup team with his hat-trick of birdies to win the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
Casey was undoubtedly in the side until the Italian forced the issue to make it possible for brothers to appear in the biennial match for the first time since 1963.
But the real selection issue was between Casey and Padraig Harrington and it was a brave call to favour the latter despite his three major titles. On raw form the nod would surely have gone to the Englishman.
While Harrington was sitting out the weekends of the Open and USPGA, Casey was challenging at St Andrews and banking a healthy cheque at Whistling Straits. This, though, was a judgement by captain Colin Montgomerie that wasn't based purely on form.
The captain wants Harrington to be a focal point in his team; to make the most of his stature as a double Open and USPGA champion. Monty has piled the pressure on to him to deliver, especially when you consider that Harrington hasn't won a Ryder Cup match since 2004.
Casey, the world number nine, will feel bitterly disappointed to miss out and he has paid a heavy price for putting the FedEx Cup before the Ryder Cup.
That famed European team spirit is so crucial and his apparent indifference through the summer seriously undermined his claims in the eyes of many of the continent's stalwarts; figures like vice captains Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn.
They were fully involved in the discussions with the captain and his selections send a clear message that if you are going to be an American-based European you better play yourself into the side, because there are no guarantees if you don't.
Harrington's status as a three-time major winner earned his wildcard - photo: Getty
You either have to have a very special CV, and no one currently playing comes close to the one Harrington boasts, or you have to make commitments in the way that Luke Donald did by playing the Wales Open in the spring.
This is where Justin Rose also fell foul despite his obvious partnership with Ian Poulter, his fine form this year and the three out of four points he scored at Valhalla in 2008.
Those players who stayed away from Gleneagles (Rose couldn't have qualified even if he'd turned up) put themselves at risk of the chop. Their choice, their priorities. It was only Harrington's stature that saved him.
It is not the strongest possible European team because players from the world points list are the first to qualify. As stated in a previous blog, if the lists were flipped and European money list points counted first Monty would not have needed to leave out the world number nine.
But the current set-up ensures that performances on the European Tour remain crucial and this is how Ross Fisher, Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez claimed their places.
In the last two weeks of qualifying Hanson and Jimenez delivered the results they needed and that's a big bonus for the home side at Celtic Manor.
Does it make up for the absence of Casey's through-the-air length, which will be important, and Rose's jaunty confidence?
Only time will tell, but the fact is this system is how events like the Czech Open and the Johnnie Walker Championship gain much of their significance, which is crucial to the health of the tour.
It's an inexperienced team with six rookies but of those Martin Kaymer is a major champion, Rory McIlroy is one of the game's biggest stars and the Molinari brothers are a ready-made partnership.
Fisher will most likely step into Rose's shoes as a partner for Poulter.
Sergio Garcia's role as a vice-captain is interesting. He brings great passion but who knows how Harrington will react to the Spaniard's presence? They have history, as they say.
The fact is Harrington will be grateful just to be in Wales. This is the Ryder Cup where he has to come to the fore as an on-course leader. It's a huge challenge and Monty is backing him to do it.
That's the captain's gamble and right now it feels like a decent bet.
It's been a good week for Monty, who was on seriously shaky ground at the USPGA as he tried to cope with outside distractions as well as the prospect of his big four staying away from Gleneagles.
The Scot dealt with his media obligations with aplomb this week and was able to re-assert his authority. He and his vice-captains are perfectly in tune and Team Europe seems on a more even keel despite what remains a controversial selection for the match on October 1-3.
It will only be then that we will fully know whether Montgomerie has chosen correctly. Casey and Rose's disappointment will be forgotten if he is holding aloft the famous trophy; they will be uncomfortable ghosts if the result goes the other way.