After two years of appearing a certainty to be in Europe’s Ryder Cup team, Lee Westwood’s place hangs on a veritable knife-edge going into the final day of qualifying at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Two years of being almost an ever-present in the nine automatic slots for Whistling Straits and now, for the final round, his fate basically rests in the hands of the Irishman Shane Lowry.
Here is how tight it is: when Lowry birdied three holes on the front nine on Saturday, he knocked Westwood out of the team. When the 2019 Open champion bogeyed the 15th, Westwood was back in. A birdie at the 18th took Lowry past the Englishman once more.
Lee Westwood’s Ryder Cup place is hanging in the balance going into the final day of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth
Birdies from some of the other PGA contenders and an eagle from Jamie Donaldson at the 18th, however, pushed Lowry down a couple of spots in the tournament to a three-way tie for seventh and left Westwood clinging to his place. By 2.34 points, to be precise. It is a good job they have got powerful calculators at European Tour HQ.
Westwood insists he is not stressed about it all, even taking issue with a suggestion to that effect in Saturday’s Sportsmail. So let us be stressed on his behalf.
Unlike Lowry, who is all but guaranteed a wild card if he was the one to miss out, it really would be a case of sweaty palms if Westwood, who shot 71 on Saturday to be tied 43rd position in the tournament, is the man on the outside by fractions.
It could leave captain Padraig Harrington having to choose three between Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose. Imagine missing out on tying Sir Nick Faldo’s record of 11 Ryder Cups in such dramatic circumstances, at the age of 48. Almost too cruel to contemplate, isn’t it?
The Englishman’s fate now effectively rests in the hands of the Irishman Shane Lowry (above)
Lowry needs at least a finish inside the top eight on his own to pass Westwood and is playing on a course where he finished runner-up in 2014 and inside the top 15 in each of the last four editions. This might well go down to the final putt on the 18th hole.
At the start of the event, there had been a cosy assumption about the make-up of the team, despite the many variables that could potentially unfold.
Under this complacent thinking, Lowry and Westwood were to hold on to their places, allowing Harrington three straightforward picks of Garcia, Poulter and Rose. The man who blew up that notion and in some style as well was the quietly impressive Austrian Bernd Wiesberger.
Three over par after six holes on Thursday, it looked as if the 35-year-old from Vienna was going quietly. He was still two over par playing the 17th, but a birdie, eagle finish changed everything.
No one has played better since, as he followed one 67 on Friday with another to move alongside Lowry in a tie for seventh place. The big hitter is now on the brink of becoming the first Austrian to play in the Ryder Cup.
‘I’m very proud of the fact I’ve not allowed myself to think ahead as to what could happen,’ he said. ‘It’s our flagship event, and my main focus is trying to win, rather than being distracted about anything else.’
Westwood has had two years of being almost an ever-present in the nine automatic slots
Wiesberger picked a good day to shine, with Ryder Cup vice-captain Martin Kaymer his playing partner. ‘He just played so well,’ said the German.
If Lowry and Wiesberger both have very good days then it may threaten the position of Matt Fitzpatrick as well as Westwood, but let us not go down that route, where all sorts of ifs and buts and madness lie.
As for the tournament itself, Englishman Laurie Canter coped well with his unaccustomed position in the last group out to finish one shot behind the surprise leader, Italian Francesco Laporta.
Australian Adam Scott, making his first appearance on the West Course since 2006, shot 70 to stand alongside veteran Welshman Donaldson and American Billy Horschel at two off the lead. Rose (72) did not have his best stuff and is five behind.
It should be some finish on both fronts, therefore, with Harrington due to name his three wild cards a couple of hours after the final putt is holed.