Qualifying for the Ryder Cup has resumed with Padraig Harrington warning that older European stars could miss out because of the year-long delay to his team's trophy defence.
Europe will head to Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in September looking to beat the United States for a fourth time in five matches.
And this week's big money Abu Dhabi Championship is the first event to offer Race to Dubai qualifying points since the coronavirus pandemic halted proceedings last March.
Although tournaments returned last summer, the qualifying process for the nine automatic spots in the European team was suspended until the start of 2021.
The four players who earn most Race to Dubai points and the five who collect most world ranking points qualify - Spain's Jon Rahm, for example, added to his world ranking tally by finishing seventh in Hawaii earlier this month.
|Ryder Cup standings - Europe|
|European points list||Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Victor Perez|
|World points list||Tyrrell Hatton, Danny Willett, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood, Bernd Wiesberger|
|Standings correct on 18/01/21|
As captain, Harrington will also have three wildcard selections to complete his team.
It is a Ryder Cup process disrupted like none before and the Irishman believes it has not helped several of the players who have made Europe such a dominant force in recent clashes.
"The extra year is going to be a year too far for some of the older guys," Europe's skipper said. "Some of them would have made my team in 2020 but won't make the team in 2021, they will be replaced by young fresh faces."
From the line up that hammered the United States 17½-10½ in Paris in 2018, the likes of Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Francesco Molinari are potentially vulnerable.
"Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson might like to have the extra year, because they had struggled with form in the first half of last year," Harrington told RTE radio. "They are starting to show a bit more form."
It is clear Harrington senses a transitional churn. But he also knows the value of experience.
The Irishman will have noted the the positive impact of the initially contentious but ultimately inspired wildcards given to Garcia and Stenson at the last Ryder Cup where Harrington was a vice captain to Thomas Bjorn.
The skipper will not ignore the stellar record of someone such as 45-year-old Ian Poulter, who has won 14 and lost only six of his 22 Ryder Cup contests.
"Clearly Ian Poulter deserves a pick," Harrington said. "If he still has two legs by the time the Ryder Cup comes around in 2021, it would be extraordinary for someone like Ian not to get in based on what he has done in the past."
Harrington added: "In terms of the older lads, there is a good selection of them, probably six of them will end up getting four places on the team."
Poulter is part of a high quality field in Abu Dhabi where the resurgent veteran Lee Westwood is defending champion. The event will also see Rory McIlroy make his first appearance in a European Tour event for more than a year.
He is among several players looking to restart their qualifying campaigns with a bang, including English quartet Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Danny Willett.
And Open champion Shane Lowry, the Abu Dhabi winner in 2019, is desperate to play in a team led by his fellow Irishman this September.
Points on both lists have already been banked from the period between September 2019 and March 2020, but now the race intensifies to be among those on the plane to Wisconsin.
To ensure Harrington's team is made up of the most in-form players, points for both lists will be multiplied by 1.5 until early May. Thereafter, through to the final qualifying event - September's BMW PGA at Wentworth - points will be doubled.
Inevitably players will seek to not be distracted by what promises to be an intense battle for selection. They need to concentrate purely on performance and results.
But for observers it will be an intriguing process. We can expect Viktor Hovland's rapid rise to propel the 23-year-old Norwegian, already 14th in the world rankings, to his Ryder Cup debut.
In the team room Hovland would not be treated as a rookie but for the world class talent he already possesses, as was the case with Rahm in France three years ago.
Harrington anticipates other emerging stars to make concerted pushes for his European team; figures such as Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez, Scotland's Bob MacIntyre and Englishman Matt Wallace, who came close to a debut in 2018, must be on his radar.
"An extra year for the young guys is so important as they can go from serious talents to mature talents," Harrington reasoned.
"And I'm still hoping for that one rookie who jumps out and has a miraculous year, and is a star when it comes to the Ryder Cup."
The captain has eight months to watch and assess as his team takes shape for one of the great sporting events of 2021. He might already have a decent idea of his line up, but there will be surprises along the way.
And for the pure fun of it, here's my suggestion of the dozen who might be assembled: Fitzpatrick, Fleetwood, Garcia, Hatton, Hovland, Lowry, McIlroy, Poulter, Rahm, Rose, Westwood and Willett.
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We can revisit them in September. It's going to be fascinating to find out how many of our predictions prove correct.