From Brian Keogh in Cologne
Less than 12 months after staging the Ryder Cup, Ireland is struggling to find two golfers willing to battle for a place in November’s US$5 million (€3.6 million) Omega Mission Hills World Cup in China.
Padraig Harrington’s decision to skip the event this year means that Ireland, champions in 1958 and 1997, is not among the 18 exempt nations and must fight it out with the minnows for 10 places available through World Qualifying Competitions to be held in Malaysia and Aruba from September 27-30.
The leading 18 available players, each native-born citizens of different countries, from the Official World Golf Ranking on September 3 qualified automatically and earned the right to select a player of their choosing from the same country provided each player is ranked in the top 100.
But despite the fact that the winning team will pocket a first prize of US$1.65 million, Ireland has yet to nominate a team to participate in the qualifiers with Friday’s deadline looming large on the horizon.
It is now certain that world number 129 Graeme McDowell is unavailable and Paul McGinley, who partnered Harrington to victory in 1997, is extremely doubtful as he is banking on a wildcard from Nick Faldo for the clashing Seve Trophy matches at The Heritage.
“I dearly love to play in the World Cup and I am gutted because the first year that I’m next highest on the world rankings behind Harrington, he’s not playing,” said McDowell, who can still make the Seve Trophy team if he wins in Cologne this week.
“But I just can’t go to either Malaysia or Aruba as the most important thing for me right now is to try and build my Ryder Cup points,” added McDowell, who empahsised the importance of the following week’s Dunhill Links Championship.
“The thought of jumping on a plane and heading off to Malaysia or Aruba just doesn’t make any sense. It’s just too much to ask for and it all seems too much up in the air,” he said.
Darren Clarke (ranked 169th) is also unavailable and McGinley (175th) confessed yesterday that travelling half way around the world the week before the $5 million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is “a big ask.”
“Where is the qualifying anyway,” McGinley asked. “KL and Aruba? And where is Aruba (smiling). It makes it difficult for me because I don’t know if I am going to make the Seve Trophy or not. I will talk to (my manager) Chubby (Chandler) about it and make a decision by Thursday.
“It is unlikely that it’s going to add up. I am obviously hopeful for the Seve Trophy and if I commit myself to the World Cup and pull out there will be a problem. It is unlikely that I am going to go all the way down to the Caribbean the week before a $5 million event.
“It is a consequence of falling down the world rankings. If you play well, you are exempt for the World Cup and you don’t even have to think about pre-qualifying.”
Keith Waters, the European Tour’s Director of International Policy, said: “Ireland will need to enter a team by the close of business on September 14, and whoever represents Ireland in the qualifier must then also play in the World Cup.”
Ireland must choose a two-man pairing from players such as Damien McGrane (ranked 274th), Peter Lawrie (284th), Gary Murphy (384th), Colm Moriarty (436th), David Higgins (468th), Michael Hoey (564th), Gareth Maybin (690th), Stephen Browne (713th) and Rory McIlroy (879th), who turns professional next week.
But with European Tour and Challenge Tour cards on the line at this stage of the season, how many of those players will make themselves available remains to be seen. Murphy is currently recovering from a bout of pneumonia while Lawrie’s wife is due to give birth next week.