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The final pieces of the European Ryder Cup jigsaw fell into place on Sunday night when the captain Bernhard Langer ended weeks of speculation by handing his wild cards to Scotland's Colin Montgomerie and the young US-based Englishman Luke Donald.
After a dramatic final round of the BMW Open in Munich, the English trio of Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and David Howell, along with Ireland's Paul McGinley, also cemented their positions through the qualifying money table as a brave challenge from Swede Fredrik Jacobson faltered.
With the Frenchman Thomas Levet long since qualified it means that Langer will be taking five debutants Levet, Casey, Donald, Poulter and Howell into the battle with the Americans at Oakland Hills, Detroit on September 17.
However, with Montgomerie, who will be playing in his seventh transatlantic challenge, in the locker room Langer knows his team contains a well of experience for the youngsters to draw on, as well as a golfer who has proved inspirational in three previous European Ryder Cup triumphs. Montgomerie did not discover the news until he finished his final round in joint third place at the BMW and Langer admitted that the Scot had not always been a certainty.
“He has had some difficult times with his private life, but he has come through that. He has refocused himself and I know he will rise to the occasion. Some players crumble under pressure, but Colin will thrive on it, I know he will,” he said.
The choice of Donald ahead of the Swedes Fredrik Jacobson and Joachim Haeggman and Germany's Alex Cejka was the cause of some surprise.
Jacobson came desperately close to claiming an automatic place through both the special Ryder Cup world ranking and money lists and is also the fourth ranked European in the world.
But, said Langer, Donald had won $1.5m (£890,000) in the US this year and, coming back to Europe to press his Ryder Cup claims, had recently won the Scandinavian Masters.
Langer's announcements, which included the appointment of the Dane Thomas Bjorn as an assistant vice-captain, capped a day of high Ryder Cup emotions that totally overshadowed Miguel Angel Jimenez's two shot victory in the BMW, his fourth title of the year.
No one suffered more nerves on Sunday afternoon than Poulter, who two years ago finished 11th on the money list, one place off the automatic places, and watched Sam Torrance hand his wild cards to Jesper Parnevik and Sergio Garcia. The 28-year-old arrived in Munich occupying the ninth automatic qualifying position but as Howell and McGinley, lying either side of him, cemented their places, Poulter found himself under threat from Jacobson.
Just €96,000 (£67,000) ahead of the Swede, Poulter would have missed out had he finished lower than 45th and Jacobson third or better. And, when the Englishman ran up a seven at the sixth and a quadruple bogey eight after finding water twice at the 10th hole, that was a possibility. But he rallied in spectacular fashion, playing the last eight holes in six under par including an eagle at the final hole to seal his place. “I have been under pressure all week,” said Poulter. “And when I found water twice at the 10th, I knew I just had to go into overdrive. To play those last eight holes as I did was unbelievable.”
Playing with Jacobson yesterday was Paul McGinley, forever remembered for sinking the winning putt against the Americans at the Belfry two years ago and so desperate to earn a second Ryder Cup cap that he arrived in Munich having played for 10 straight weeks on the trot.
McGinley suffered a late scare on the 18th, where he lost a ball, but survived to claim his place and later summed up the general feeling in the European camp, saying: “When you look at the players who are not in the team like Jacobson, Bjorn and Justin Rose, you realise how strong it is going to be.”
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