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Wildcard picks offer contrasting opportunities for Ryder Cup captains

While Thomas Bjorn defended his selection of Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk still has one more decision to make.

Team Europe Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn.
Team Europe Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn.
Image: Adam Davy

HOW DARREN CLARKE will feel for Thomas Bjorn.

In 2016, the Northern Irishman boasted six rookies on his European team heading to Hazeltine.

The mighty US touted their own newbies, Ryan Moore and Brooks Koepka, but had more than enough in the way of experienced heads to brush past the visiting challenge.

Half of Clarke’s team, meanwhile, had never been in the arena, with some struggling to make an impact more than others.

Some shining lights did emerge, most notably the towering figure of Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, but ultimately Team USA were too strong for their transatlantic opposition.

USA Defeat Europe To Regain Ryder Cup - Chaska Patrick Reed was part of the victorious US team at the 2016 Ryder Cup in Hazeltine. Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS/ABACA

Fast forward two years and Team Europe face similar challenges.

Five first-timers comprise almost half of the team, with English duo Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood, Spain’s Jon Rahm, Sweden’s Alex Noren and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen all earning automatic selection through European and World points lists.

Bjorn has opted to use his four wildcard choices to take 2016 Open winner Henrik Stenson (7-7-2), Ian Poulter (12-4-2), Paul Casey (3-2-4) and most controversially Sergio Garcia (19-11-7) who hasn’t featured over the weekend in a single major this year.

“You’ve got to look at Sergio in certain ways,” Bjorn said yesterday defending his pick.

“The one thing about Sergio is he’s the heartbeat of the team. I’ve always said that about him. It’s like a football team going without their captain.”

Source: Guardian Sport/YouTube

The truth about Bjorn’s picks is that he simply couldn’t afford to take any risks. Despite some viewing Garcia’s inclusion in this way, Bjorn has clearly decided that the only way to put it up to the US was with those who had ‘been there, done that’.

“For Rafa [Cabrera Bello] it was hard to understand and tough for him to take it,” Bjorn said of his decision to omit the Spaniard. Having only featured in the 2016 edition of the biennial showpiece, Bjorn needed more seasoned players in his ranks.

That was really hard for me. When I picked up the phone I almost felt sick having to do it.”

Having not won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil in 25 years, meanwhile, Team USA captain Jim Furyk will see this year’s tournament as a chance to make a bit of history of his own.

Luckily for him, he’s in good company. Three of the top four players currently in golf’s world rankings list hold a US passport.

Moreover, all but one of golf’s four major titles are currently held by an American — Florida native Brooks Koepka reasserting their dominance by claiming both the US Open and PGA Championship, while Patrick Reed — who made a name for himself after his duel with Rory McIlroy in the 2016 Ryder Cup — held off a charge from the Northern Irishman to claim the Masters crown back in April.

Add to the mix three-time major winner Jordan Spieth and world number one Dustin Johnson, Furyk must have licked his lips at the thoughts of making his wildcard choices.

With some options almost certainly nailed on, the captain still had the freedom of real choice.

Ryder Cup Golf Jim Furyk, left, with Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Source: Matt Slocum

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were all drafted into the team and with one selection still to make, Team USA have become firm favourites to claim victory at Le Golf National at the end of the month.

Furyk has used his wildcards well by including the experienced Mickelson and someone who could most certainly be the US’ talisman in Woods.

With one eye on future Ryder Cups to come, DeChambeau was brought in after back to back victories at The Northern Trust and Dell Technologies Championship over the last two weeks.

Add to this Woods’ vocal desire to play alongside the California native, Furyk’s choice was a no-brainer.

Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele all remain in the hunt for that final coveted spot knowing a nod would put them on one of the strongest US teams in recent memory.

Furyk’s ranks were already throbbing with elite talent and automatic qualification of such a high number of experienced, high quality players, will allow him to experiment with his final selection before action gets underway on 28 September.

Team Europe

Team Europe Source: Ryder Cup Official Website

Team USA

Team USA Source: Ryder Cup Official Website

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