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In just under a month’s time, we will know the identities of all 12 European players who will attempt to regain the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National.
On September 5, two days after the first eight automatic qualifiers will be confirmed at the Czech Masters, captain Thomas Bjorn will round out his side with four picks – the most that any European captain has ever given himself.
Predictably, speculation is rife as to who those four picks will go to, with a number of candidates in the frame.
Barring an almost improbably upturn in fortunes over the next few weeks, one player who will likely require a pick if he is to feature in France is Sergio Garcia.
A veteran of eight matches, Garcia has played in all but one edition of the Ryder Cup since he made his debut as a 19-year-old at Brookline in 1999.
The one match he missed – 2010 at Celtic Manor – followed the deepest slump of his career, a slump that prompted him to take a short break from the game.
With only four weeks of qualifying remaining for this year’s match, Garcia finds himself 20th and 12th on the European and World Points Lists respectively. The top four players from each list take the automatic spots, so if Garcia wants to play his way in, he’s going to have to produce some big results, starting with this week’s US PGA at Bellerive.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Garcia is struggling for form. No. Scratch that. He is woefully out of sorts. He has missed the cut in seven of his last nine PGA Tour appearances stretching back to his Masters defence. That’s ignoring the fact that last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was a ‘no cut’ event.
On the European Tour, he backed up a tie for 12th at the BMW International Open with a tie for eighth in the French Open, on the same course that will host the Ryder Cup. His strongest advocates will point to that, and rightly so – but plenty other players have strong records at Le Golf National. Garcia, you feel, is going to need more than that.
He could argue that he made a strong start to the year. He had a fantastic March, in particular, finishing T7, fourth and T9 at the WGC-Mexico Championship, Valspar Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play respectively.
However, there can be no escaping the fact that, since the Masters, his form has been poor. Really, really poor.
He is a combined 19-over-par for the 11 events he has played worldwide dating back to and including the first major of the season, with a stroke average of 72.0. He has broken 70 just nine times in his last 30 competitive rounds.
He has fallen from tenth on the world rankings at the start of the year to 23rd as of this week. That’s his lowest world rankings since August 2012.
Only three players in the world’s top 30 as of today have earned fewer points this calendar year. He’s 132nd on the FedEx Cup standings and 38th on the Race To Dubai.
Crucially, in the context of a Ryder Cup pick, he ranks 156th in SG: Putting on the PGA Tour and 154th in the same category on the European Tour.
If you were to present all of the above to Thomas Bjorn and withhold the player’s name, do you think he’d pick the guy?
You would have to say it’s doubtful.
The single biggest thing in Sergio Garcia’s favour, however, is that he is Sergio Garcia.
He has played in 37 Ryder Cup matches, winning 22.5 points in the process. Only eight players in the history of the contest have won more matches. Only seven players have contributed more points.
The Ryder Cup appears to have a transformative power over him. It brings out something in him that ‘regular’ events only occasionally do.
In the settling of the dust post Gleneagles 2014, Sam Torrance told me that Garcia is “one of the best team players we have”, adding: “He’s an incredible kid, with the heart of a lion and he’s incredible in the team room.”
He is absolutely one of the greatest, most naturally talented players of this generation.
And so here’s the dilemma for Bjorn. What does he value more: Sergio’s form or Sergio’s experience?
If you disregard his form, you’re throwing the same dice Darren Clarke rolled in 2016 when he picked Lee Westwood. Clarke hoped that the Ryder Cup environment would ignite a spark in Westwood – but the move backfired. Does Bjorn view that as an isolated incident or does it give him pause for thought?
Equally, he could forego Sergio’s experience. “Your form has not been good enough. Sorry.” However, with Europe having suffered its heaviest defeat in 35 years last time out and a demonstrably strong American side starting to assemble, can Bjorn really afford not to give a man of Garcia’s immense Ryder Cup stature one of his four picks? Can he really say there are four players he wants more on his team? After all, it’s not about who most deserves a place on the team. The object is not to give players what they are due. The object is to win.
There are compelling cases to be made both ways.
Ultimately, though, only one person’s opinion really matters. We’ll know what it is soon enough.
Sergio Garcia: Would you pick him?
If it comes down to him needing a pick, would you choose Sergio Garcia for the European Ryder Cup team this year? Leave your thoughts in our Comments section below.
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