By Brian Keogh
Darren Clarke got a massive Ryder Cup boost when he was handed a late invitation for next week’s US PGA at Oakland Hills.
But high-flying Padraig Harrington reckons times is running out for Clarke and his fellow Irishman Paul McGinley in the race to make Nick Faldo’s European team.
While McGinley and Clarke will join Ryder Cup bound Harrington and Graeme McDowell in this week’s $8 million WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, they are well outside the qualifying places for the clash with the US in Septmeber.
And double Open champion Harrington believes that they must pull out the stops if they are to have a chance of making Faldo’s side automatically or even landing a captain’s pick.
Harrington said: “Darren and Paul know they have to show serious burst of form and play themselves right up to the edge of the team.
“There are so many players in the hunt. I know Paul has played very well this year and Darren has won and showed some form, but you are asking for them to be picked ahead of Sergio Garcia, who is tenth in the world, and Monty who plays so well in the event. There is a lot of choice there.”
Earning a captain’s pick looks tough right now with Garcia currently just outside the automatic places and looking certain to get the nod from Faldo if he remains there.
That would leave just one more pick and Harrington reckons that Clarke and McGinley will have to pull out the stops and show some serious form to make the side.
He said: “There are four guys deserving of that pick. The captain could pick them purely on merit and be justified. Right now, Sergio is the most clear cut of getting a pick.”
McGinley is 30th in the Ryder Cup European Points List right now and over €630,000 outside the automatic places with 33rd ranked Clarke more than €700,000 behind Justin Rose, who currently holds down the last automatic spot.
Winner of the WGC title on 2003, Clarke knows he can do in again on a Firestone layout that suits him, while McGinley was third at the venue in 2005.
But with Akron specialist Tiger Woods out of action until next year, world No 3 Harrington is the leading European contender to land the final World Golf Championship title of the season.
And the insists that while the pressure has been piled on his shoulders since winning the Open two years on the trot, he is still the same player who turned up at Royal Birkdale as the world No 14 two weeks ago.
Harrington said: “Am I a different player than I was on Sunday evening than I was on the Monday before the Open? I will tell you I’m not, but I will be judged a different player.
“Winning the Open again reaffirmed that the way I approach the game is correct. It reaffirms that I am maturing as a player. But ultimately, it reaffirms that in the absolute heat of battle my game goes up a notch rather than the other way.
“I probably hit the ball better during that round than I ever hit it. I had seven birdie putts and two eagle putts in the last nine holes. That is hard to do on easy course with no pressure let alone on a tough golf course, in tough conditions in the last round of an Open when you are tied for the lead.
“So there is a lot of confidence drawn for it but I think the confidence is drawn from the fact that over the last two years I have concentrated on turning up and winning that tournament rather than looking playing better golf six weeks down the road.
“The focus has switched from the physical end of the game to the mental end. Before it was 80 percent physical and 20 percent mental, maybe 60-40. Now it is 20 percent technical and 80 percent mental.”