Tait: Italian Open can provide path to Ryder Cup

Stephen Gallacher, who won the 2014 Dubai Desert Classic, is in contention for a Ryder Cup spot on the European squad.

Conventional wisdom says European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley would pick Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald if he had to make his three wild-card picks right now. As we’ve seen in the past, though, conventional wisdom sometimes flies out the window when it comes to Ryder Cup picks.

All three players sit outside the nine automatic places with a week to go to make the team at Gleneagles. In all three, McGinley has experienced campaigners who know how to handle Ryder Cup pressure.

However, McGinley will be somewhat torn. A part of him will want to reward the commitment shown by Stephen Gallacher, who is 11th on the Ryder Cup table.

Gallacher can seal his place with a win or second-place finish in this week’s Italian Open. Should he fail in that attempt, then he will have to rely on McGinley for a wild-card choice.

Gallacher has something else going in his favor. He’s Scottish, and McGinley would love to have at least one home player on the team he takes to the heart of Scotland.

Will the Irishman take the bold step and select Gallacher over one of the above trio should the European points table remain as it is, or take the easier option?

Westwood has played in every Ryder Cup since 1997, posting an 18-13-6 won/lost/tied record. His record in four-balls is 8-4-2, while his foursomes record is 7-4-4.

Aside from the leadership he’d bring to the team room, Westwood has partnered Sergio Garcia many times, posting a 4-1-2 record with the Spaniard. So that’s a ready-made pairing for McGinley.

Donald has also forged a successful partnership with Garcia, with the pair teaming up for a 5-1-0 record. That one loss came in foursomes against four victories in the alternate-shot format. The Englishman has a 10-4-1 record in the biennial match.

Poulter’s a no-brainer pick for McGinley. Despite not having the best of seasons, the Englishman will play at Gleneagles. He is 12-3-0 in the Ryder Cup, and has never lost a singles match.

If not for Poulter, Europe might not have won the 2012 Ryder Cup. It was Poulter’s five-birdie finish Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy to defeat Jason Dufner in four-balls that setup Europe’s Miracle at Medinah.

Poulter brings the same sort of passion to the match that Seve Ballesteros once brought. Rest assured the Englishman will be one of McGinley’s picks.

On paper, Gallacher can’t compete with the above three. His match-play experience as a professional is mostly confined to last year’s appearances in the Seve and Royal trophies. Most of his match play comes from his amateur days, especially from helping Great Britain & Ireland win the 1995 Walker Cup.

However, McGinley might just feel he needs to reward Gallacher’s effort in trying to make this year’s team.

What some commentators might not be taking into consideration is McGinley’s European Tour loyalty. He’s an establishment figure, serving on the European Tour’s tournament committee for many years. He will feel honor-bound to choose a player like Gallacher who’s fully committed to the European Tour.

There is precedence for selecting Gallacher over a more obvious candidate. It’s only 14 years since Mark James chose Andrew Coltart over Bernhard Langer for the 1999 match. Although it remains one of the oddest choices ever made by a European captain, James picked Coltart partly because he wanted to reward European Tour loyalty. Like McGinley, James was part of the European Tour’s fabric, serving as tournament committee chairman.

My money is on McGinley going with the tried and tested trio, but I wouldn’t be surprised he names Gallacher when he makes his selections Sept. 2.

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