Good Week, Bad Week
The Players Championship
Who is on the rise in the race for a Ryder Cup place... and which Hazeltine hopefuls had a Players Championship to forget?
A good week for...
After a fine end to 2015, in which he won on the PGA Tour and had seemingly turned the corner, the 36-year-old Ulsterman had slipped back into the rut with six missed cuts in his opening 10 events of the season. In this context, a tie for ninth at the Players was a promising result, although he plainly still has work to do down at 14th in the standings. But at the very least his 69-69 weekend at Sawgrass would have reminded captain Darren Clarke what a gritty competitor he remains. While the overwhelming majority of the field went backwards as the conditions got tougher, so McDowell motored ahead and the strides he took should give him great heart as he heads to the Irish Open. He is a confidence player and his dander is up again.
“McDowell has reminded captain Darren Clarke what a gritty competitor he remains.”
The biggest mover on any of the lists, the 29-year-old from California moved up from 26th to 10th on the US Ryder Cup points list, courtesy of his second-place finish at Sawgrass. It was a bitter-sweet result for Chappell in one respect as this was his third runner-up placing of the year and the fifth of his career as he awaits his first PGA Tour victory. But the joy far outweighs the frustration in this breakthrough year. Chappell, a streaky but impressive ball-striker, is at last a member of the world’s top 50 and has only two more positions to climb to be in an automatic berth for Hazeltine. He has undoubtedly emerged as captain Davis Love’s dark horse.
It might seem strange to suggest that Sawgrass was a positive experience for the Inverness 30-year-old. After all, if he had made par on the 17th on Saturday instead of that sextuple-bogey nine, Knox would have finished second and would have been on the brink of cracking the top nine on Europe’s Ryder Cup world points list. As it is, he finished in a tie for 19th and is in 29th in the standings. That is how fine the margins can be in golf. But captains look beyond the black and white and Darren Clarke cannot have failed to be impressed with Knox’s performance for 71 holes and, indeed, with the wonderful manner in which he handled the disaster on the other hole. He is flashing on the radar now.
A bad week for...
It is unfair to single him out, because he is not the only Ryder Cup heavyweight struggling to put himself in the frame. But the fact is the Ryder Cup means so much to Poulter and he means so much to the Ryder Cup that his current plight is attracting the spotlight. The 40-year-old was well-placed on eight-under at the halfway point at The Players, but he faded away badly thereafter, his 79-75 weekend dropping him into a tie for 57th. Poulter knows he must turn things around and will play the next two weeks in Texas to try to arrest his slide. Outside the top 30 in the Ryder Cup standings, he has spiralled to 74th in the world rankings and is not yet qualified for either the US Open or Open. It is an urgent situation.
“Poulter has spiralled to 74th in the world rankings and is not yet qualified for either the US Open or Open. It is an urgent situation.”
When he finished second at the Desert Classic in Dubai in February, the 28-year-old from Nuneaton seemed an unstoppable force. He remains in the last automatic spot on the European points list and continues to perform commendably on his home tour and, indeed, in America with top 20s in the two World Golf Championship events. But his displays at the Masters and the Players have been woeful, with two missed cuts containing big numbers and he will not want to be viewed as a player who quivers on the big stage. European captain Darren Clarke adores Sullivan as a cultured ball-striker and as an infectious personality and will want to see him raise his game in the forthcoming majors. But the immediate challenge is to return to Europe and button down his place.