Europeans wait on Ryder Cup qualification after Italian Open
European captain Paul McGinley is facing tough choices as he considers his three wildcard picks for next month's Ryder Cup defence at Gleneagles.
The picture is almost complete. With Jamie Donaldson claiming victory at the Czech Open, eight of the nine automatic qualifiers are known with just one more counting event to go.
For Stephen Gallacher there have been few bigger tournaments than this week's Italian Open. A top two finish would catapult the Scot into a home contest against Tom Watson's Americans.
Watson was the opposing skipper to Gallacher's uncle Bernard the last time the US won an away match back in 1993 at The Belfry.
For the American-based Europeans the race is over as far as automatic qualification is concerned. This week's Deutsche Bank Championship doesn't start until Friday and its Monday finish means it concludes after the 31 August deadline.
However, the Boston tournament still offers a golden opportunity to impress the captain, who announces his picks on 2 September.
Graeme McDowell holds the last automatic qualifying berth on the world ranking points list but can still be overhauled by Gallacher. The Northern Ireland man doesn't play this week, though, because of the imminent arrival of his first child.
Three stalwarts - Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, with 16 Ryder Cup appearances between them - have all failed to qualify. They will be watching Gallacher's Italian job with the closest of interest.
Regardless of whether the Scot forces his way into the side, McDowell is surely guaranteed his place. McGinley has been impressed by the world number 16's summer performances, which have yielded victory at the French Open and four other top 10s.
|* US top nine are confirmed, with three wildcards to be named* European top nine is selected from the European Points List and World Points List and will be confirmed at the end of August* Both captains choose three wildcards on 2 September|
|1||Bubba Watson||Rory McIlroy|
|2||Rickie Fowler||Henrik Stenson|
|3||Jim Furyk||Victor Dubuisson|
|4||Jimmy Walker||Jamie Donaldson|
|5||Phil Mickelson||Sergio Garcia|
|6||Matt Kuchar||Thomas Bjorn|
|7||Jordan Spieth||Justin Rose|
|8||Patrick Reed||Martin Kaymer|
|9||Zach Johnson||Graeme McDowell|
One of the three captain's wildcard picks has been reserved for McDowell if required. The picture is less clear for the English trio who have been at the heart of so much of Europe's recent Ryder Cup success.
Donald, Poulter and Westwood have all had disappointing seasons. Since finishing sixth at the Players' Championship in May, Westwood's best result has been a share of 15th at the US PGA Championship at Valhalla.
McGinley called on the man who has played eight Ryder Cups to show him something through the summer months.
Westwood responded with the odd glimpse of high-quality golf. There was a closing 63 at the WGC Invitational at Firestone and an opening 65 that gave the 41-year-old the first round lead at the final major of the year.
But overall his form hasn't been at all compelling and he failed to progress beyond the first stage of the PGA Tour play-offs. It's been a far cry from the standard of play that took Westwood to world number one four years ago.
The same can be said of Donald, another Englishman who topped the global standings. The swing changes prompted by his near-miss at last year's US Open have yet to realise the desired results.
Since finishing third at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth (a course where he has won twice) there's been little to cheer the man who has been on the victorious side in all four of his Ryder Cups.
Donald's best result has been a tie for 16th at the Scottish Open. However his putting statistics remain encouraging and he lies a creditable 11th in the PGA Tour's "Strokes Gained" category.
Performance on the greens will be the key battleground at Gleneagles. The hottest putters tend to decide Ryder Cups. Donald's continued prowess with the putter may keep him in the side.
He will need a strong week in Boston at the Deutsche Bank event to keep himself in the FedEx Cup reckoning. Donald currently lies 80th in the standings and only the top 70 progress.
Poulter, lying 91st, is in a similar situation. Both players know a decent showing over the Labour Day weekend could significantly influence McGinley.
The popular theory is that Poulter is a shoo-in because of his heroics to inspire the "Miracle of Medinah" two years ago. His five birdies in a row late on the Saturday resurrected Europe in that Ryder Cup.
Without Poulter's contribution the continent could not have come back from 10-4 down, but that was two years ago and Poulter has shown little sign of being capable of repeating such heroics.
He hasn't come close to a top-20 finish since tying for 17th at the US Open in June. Poulter also languishes 106th in the PGA Tour putting stats.
Gallacher, who is ranked one place higher at 34 in the world, has a much more encouraging form line. He came seventh in the Czech Republic last Sunday to record his fifth top 10 since successfully defending the Dubai Desert Classic in February.
The presence of a Scot would help McGinley in his objective to make Gleneagles stage "the loudest Ryder Cup ever" and it is a course where Gallacher made it to a play-off at the Johnnie Walker Championship 12 months ago.
Europe's captain will be keeping very close tabs on this week's golf - on both sides of the Atlantic.