European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley opted for the match-play maven, the hot hand and the seasoned veteran Tuesday when filling out his 12-man roster.
In a news conference at European Tour headquarters in Wentworth, England, McGinley named Ian Poulter, Stephen Gallacher and Lee Westwood – the maven, hot hand and veteran, respectively – as his three wild-card picks for the Sept. 26-28 matches at Gleneagles.
“I’m a very lucky man to have such a variety of talent to choose from,” McGinley said.
The decision was met with little, if any, surprise.
Despite a sub-par, injury-plagued season in the States, Poulter was an obvious choice. His career winning percentage in the biennial event (12-3, 80 percent) is the best of any player on the European team, and he’s developed a reputation as one of the team’s most intense members.
“You could feel the energy coming down the phone,” McGinley said.
“The Ryder Cup means a lot to me,” Poulter said, “and I guarantee I’ll be ready to perform my best.”
Gallacher’s appointment seemed similarly straightforward, especially after his spirited run at last week’s Italian Open. Needing to finish first or second to secure a spot in the final week of qualifying, he came up one shot shy after a final-round 65. In the end, the T-3 finish marked his eighth top-10 of the season, the most of any player. A European Tour loyalist himself, McGinley rewarded Gallacher’s commitment with a spot on his first Ryder Cup team, at age 39. Besides, the Scotsman will be a hugely popular figure in his home country, seeing as he lives 35 minutes from Gleneagles and lost in a playoff there a year ago.
“I think his performance last week in Italy, under the spotlight, was huge,” McGinley said. “What he did, how he did it, all credit to him.”
The most agonizing decision for McGinley was his last pick: Westwood vs. Luke Donald.
Neither player has performed particularly well this season (no top-10s combined since May), and both players have already been bounced from the FedEx Cup playoffs. Ultimately, McGinley sided with Westwood’s recent form (top-20s at Bridgestone and PGA) and experience – this will be the 41-year-old Englishman’s team-high ninth appearance, as he looks to build on an 18-13-6 career mark. Really, Westwood may have tipped his hand a few weeks prior, when he said after The Barclays that he was “off until the Ryder Cup,” perhaps suggesting that he’d already been assured of a spot.
Nonetheless, the odd man out was Donald, who has enjoyed remarkable success in match play dating to his amateur days, when he went 7-1 in the Walker Cup. He has yet to play on a losing Ryder Cup team, amassing a 10-4-1 record (including 3-1 in singles). Though he remains one of the game’s elite putters, he has struggled to embrace a swing change that is nearly a year in the making. He is outside the top 120 in ball-striking, scoring average and the PGA Tour’s all-around statistic.
“It was a very, very, very difficult call for me to make, but it was one I had to make in the interest of the European team,” McGinley said. “He was very, very disappointed and rightly so. … His last two words were ‘Go Europe.’ I think that says a lot about Luke.”
McGinley said he also called Miguel Angel Jimenez, Francesco Molinari, Joost Luiten and Bernhard Langer to inform them that they did not make the team.
Europe has won five of the past six Ryder Cups, though each of the past two matches have been decided by one point. The last time the Europeans lost on home soil was 1993, when captain Tom Watson led the U.S. to a 15-13 victory.
More than 20 years later, Watson is back at the helm for the U.S. squad. He will announce his three wild-card picks Tuesday evening in New York. Golf Channel coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET.