Nick Westby: Gallacher deserves Cup chance as time catches up with Westwood

Eleven months ago, I did what any self-respecting sports journalist should do.

Europe's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.

I shunned the facts, ignored form, history and future predictions, and went purely with the instincts rumbling around in my oversized gut when forecasting the 12 men I thought would make up the European team for the Ryder Cup at the end of this month at Gleneagles.

Ahead of Paul McGinley’s naming of his three wild cards tomorrow to complete his line-up to face Tom Watson’s United States side, a trawl through The Yorkshire Post archives has led me to believe I should in future eschew the feelings in my gut.

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Because I did not do very well.

I only got six of the nine players who have made McGinley’s team by rights, and two of those – Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer – I predicted would have to rely on a wild card selection.

The other four I got right were relatively safe bets: Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia.

The three I got completely wrong and who are nowhere near the shake-up are players who I went out on a limb for: Nicolas Colsaerts, Matteo Manassero and Joost Luiten.

Now my defence for selecting this trio was that there are always unheralded players you would never in a million years think possible of lining up as one of the 12 best golfers in Europe for the biggest biennial duel in sport.

They reach the promised land of the Ryder Cup by virtue of their form on their home continent and when given the rare chance to shine at major and world golf championship level.

In place of the three guys I got completely wrong are players who fall into that category; golfers you would not have waged an iota on 12 months ago.

Okay, Thomas Bjorn has been a class act for well over 15 years, but he has not played his way into a Ryder Cup team since 2002.

After winning twice in the year of qualifying, it is good to see the Great Dane back. But hands up those who thought Frenchman Victor Dubuisson would be making his Ryder Cup debut at Gleneagles, or Welshman Jamie Donaldson.

Before the qualifying period for this year’s Ryder Cup began last September, Dubuisson had played in only one major, had never contested a World Golf Championship event and had not won on the European Tour. He had not even played in the Seve Trophy.

However, victory among a stellar field at the Turkish Open last November transformed his career.

Another European Tour win and two top-10 finishes in majors later and Dubuisson is a young Frenchman Watson’s men will be very mindful of come September 26.

Conversely, Donaldson has been a jobbing professional on the European Tour since 2001. He finally won a tournament two years ago, added another last year and started to make a name for himself Stateside, with strong performances in the majors.

But it was his timely victory at last week’s Czech Masters which ended any doubt about not only his selection, but also his nerve when the chips are down – a vital element in the anatomy of a Ryder Cup player.

Team Europe will be completed tomorrow when McGinley, pictured right, names his three wild card selections, and for that, there are five serious contenders.

Three of those are not only Englishmen, but stalwarts of the Ryder Cup, men who have helped Europe win five of the six matches this century, and players who, quite frankly, have let themselves down in the chase for coveted spots this year.

Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood have won a combined 43.5 points between them in 16 appearances.

Poulter is ‘Mr Ryder Cup’. He has the greatest win percentage in European team history (80 per cent). He has won eight out of nine matches when playing with a partner in foursomes and fourballs action. With those bulging eyes, pumping fists and nerveless putts, he strikes fear into Team USA.

Donald is not far behind with a 70 per cent win ratio. In foursomes golf, prior to the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ two years ago, he had won six out of six.

Both were close enough to the qualification race as well this year, and both should go.

Westwood, though, should not. As admirable as his longevity is – eight consecutive Ryder Cups since 1997 – age appears to have finally caught up with him and the hunger seems to have drained from his body.

His time is up, as is that of one of the other contenders, Miguel Angel Jimenez, no matter the fact that he has won twice in qualifying, one of those coming after he tutrned 50.

The last wild card will go to Stephen Gallacher, who went in to the final qualifying event, the Italian Open, needing a top-two finish to qualify by rights. He did not manage it, but by finishing 10th in the qualifying race after a third European Tour win earlier this year and following a strong showing at the Open, the 39-year-old has earned his chance.

Dare I say, the fact he is from Scotland may also influence McGinley. But I’ve been wrong before.