Pádraig Harrington’s wrist injury will keep him out of action for at least another fortnight but he has his finger on the pulse when it comes to Rory McIlroy’s Masters build-up or Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne as potential Ryder Cup rookies.
Having seen the last three captains live in fear of showing bias towards their countrymen, the 2020 skipper made it crystal clear that Lowry and Dunne had better qualify on merit or do something extraordinary to get a wildcard.
“Shane couldn’t have got a better win,” said Harrington, impressed by McIlroy's effortless start to 2019, of Lowry's Abu Dhabi heroics.
“It’s not going to get him on the team, but it puts him in the tournaments that mean it’s within his control. You don’t make the Ryder Cup if you’re not in the top 50 in the world.
“So he’s put himself in position and come 1 September, when the qualifying starts, he’ll be in the driving seat. It will be up to him.
“It’s all about self-confidence... There is nothing Shane can do bar play his own game and trust that’s good enough.”
Teasing the press at the opening of Peter Lawrie's Spawell Golf Academy this week, Harrington revealed his qualifying criteria may raise eyebrows.
“I have decided what I am doing,” he said with a grin. “There will be one change that will be talked about —a lot— when it is announced.
“I’m not going to say it until [the Tour] are ready. But I instigated it.”
After medics advised him to give his fractured wrist more time to heal and skip next week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Dubliner (47) has been keenly watching out, not for form, but “personalities and attitudes” and potential "fringe" players.
Dunne is the kind of man he’d "love" to have under his orders, and he'll have seen him put two missed cuts behind him and open with two-under 68 in the Saudi International yesterday.
The Greystones star (26) shares 31st with the likes of Ian Poulter, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson and lies just five shots behind Ryder Cup player Thomas Pieters, who leads by two from six players following a 63, with world No 1 Justin Rose taking 70.
“He's had a slow start, but Paul Dunne 'has' something,” Harrington said. “He has that little bit of X-factor, he's got a great short game, he has a little bit of bottle in him..
“Somebody like Paul, if they hit form or are in good form, they have the bottle that you want in the Ryder Cup.
“They have the attitude and the ability. No doubt about it, if Paul Dunne plays his way into the team, you'd be happy to have him. Good putter, good attitude, good short game and bottle.
“So Paul has to be patient and work his way through it, not get down on himself and he'll have his periods of 6-8 weeks of good play.
“And the great thing about Paul is he's capable of winning. He has the game to win under pressure. He has a demon short game, and Paul will take comfort from that fact that he won all the matches he had when he was practising with Shane before the tournament [in Abu Dhabi]. He knows his game is good enough; he just has to take it to the golf course.
“A player of Paul's like is the kind of guy, no more than myself, who can get caught up in his swing at times and get lost in something for 6-8 weeks but then find it for 6-8 weeks and be comfortable.
“And when he's comfortable, he goes and wins. He just needs to stay patient and wait for those periods. I like his style of play, maybe because it's a bit like mine.”
McIlroy will be critical to Harrington’s Wisconsin masterplan and he admitted he watched the Holywood star’s effortless-looking, back-to-back top-five finishes to start the season with envy.
“I was watching it, not Ryder Cup-wise, just golf-wise, I don't think Rory is going to turn around and say, I played my best golf. Or wow, I had some particularly great breaks or luck,” he said.
“And he was fourth and fifth. How easy is that? Most guys finishing fourth and fifth are saying, 'Wow, I had a great week. Didn't I do well.' Rory is walking away from both those weeks thinking, uhgh, and yet that's how close he is.
“I'd love to be in his spikes going out next week because there is a win coming pretty quickly and he is hoping it doesn't come that quickly. He is hoping it comes in about 10 weeks' time. But it's right there. He could easily cross that line just with a putt or two dropping.
“Nothing has happened for him for two weeks, and he's been close enough.”
McIlroy is not an issue for Harrington. But when it comes to talking about Irish players, Harrington knows that he’s in an awkward position as Ryder Cup captain having seen Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn deal with the issue as one of their vice-captains.
“Unfortunately, at the end of the day, I will tell you right now, it is pretty tough for a rookie to get picked. Shane and Paul, they either play their way in or something exceptional has to happen for them to get a pick,” he said.
“And to be honest, and I will tell you the absolute truth because I have seen it three times at Ryder Cups, it's hard for the captain when he is talking about his own countrymen. They are so afraid of being biased that it could actually work against home players.
“But it would be very evident with Paul or Shane if they either play their way in or something happens that they won't be a hard pick. It will either be obvious, or they will play their way in.
“But unfortunately, as rookies, if they are genuinely fringe picks, it is more likely to go against them because they are rookies. And even a little bit because you are trying not to be biased.”
While he’s a rules savant, Harrington confessed he had some sympathy for Li Haotong, calling his two-shot penalty in Dubai on Sunday “very borderline” and “very harsh”.
"I hate to say this, but somebody had to take the hit for everybody else," he said. "If it didn't happen to Li Haotong, it was going to happen to somebody else next week."
As for his left wrist, Harrington is still sporting a brace having failed to get the all clear to join Lowry at Pebble Beach next week and make his first start of 2019.
“I was with the doctor this week,” Harrington said of the injury he incurred falling on the stairs seven weeks ago. “He was comfortable with it, but it’s not quite ready. He wants me to wait until next week before I start hitting balls, so I am just have physio between now and then.
“But the break, some of the stuff that he’s worried about is fine, but the break is still not quite there. There was a bone out of place that has reset itself. It’s reasonably positive without me being able to go and play.
“I may make LA in two weeks’ time. I may make it if he gives me the OK. If not I’ll definitely make Honda and 28-Mar 3) hopefully, Bay Hill (Mar 7-10) too.”
At the PGA Tour's Waste Management Phoenix Open, Seamus Power made three birdies and three bogeys in a level par 71.
Working hard to get used to swing changes, he’s tied for 71st and now has work to do to avoid his seventh missed cut in a row and his eighth in nine starts.
Scoring was hot in ideal conditions but Power hit just six fairways and 10 greens and ended his day seven shots behind leaders Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Harold Varner III
The US Ryder cup duo posted bogey-free 64's before being joined in seven-under by Varner, one shot clear of Martin Laird and JT Poston with England’s Tyrrell Hatton, Ben An, Charley Hoffman, Scott Piercy and Bubba Watson a shot further back after carding five-under 66’s at TPC Scottsdale.
In the race for five cards at the Staysure Tour Qualifying School Finals in Portugal, Headfort's Brendan McGovern missed out by five shots on four-over after a closing 71 to finish 13th as Belfast's Damian Mooney tied for 25th on 10-over after a 78
American Tim Thelen, José Manuel Carriles, Dan Olsen, André Bossert and England's Stuart Little (after a playoff) secured cards.
Thelen earned his second Staysure Tour Qualifying School Final Stage title as a final round 69 meant he finished on five-under par, securing full playing privileges for the 2019 season.
The American carded rounds of 73-71-66-69 to finish one shot ahead of Carriles, who clinched the second Staysure Tour card in second, while Olsen finished third on three-under par and André Bossert came fourth on two-under.
The final card went to Englishman Little who overcame countryman Peter Wilson in a play-off, birdieing the second extra hole to secure the fifth and final card on a dramatic day.
Thelen, who was making his first appearance at Qualifying School since he won both First Stage and Final Stage in 2010, came out on top after three back nine birdies counteracted a two-over par front nine.
Staysure Tour Qualifying School Final Stage Vale da Pinta (Par 71), Pestana Golf Resort, Portugal
279 T Thelen (USA) 73 71 66 69,
280 J Carriles (Esp) 72 71 66 71,
281 D Olsen (USA) 73 67 66 75,
282 A Bossert (Sui) 71 66 75 70,
283 S Little (Eng) 75 69 69 70 (beat P Wilson at 2nd extra hole for fifth card).
Failed to qualify: 288 B McGovern (Irl) 75 71 71 71; 294 D Mooney (Irl) 72 74 70 78.