Ryder Cup wildcards: Analysing the contenders for European selection

(From L to R) Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia are among the favourites to be selected by Europe captain Thomas Bjorn. ESPN/Getty

The wildcard picks: It's when Ryder Cup captaincy turns sour, the golfing equivalent of a father calling a press conference to announce his favourite children.

To this point Thomas Bjorn has had a great time, co-ordinating outfits, biffing balls from the Eiffel Tower and buttering up 20-30 potential team members.

He'll have spent nearly two years with those hopefuls, laughing at their jokes, double-checking dietary requirements and collecting shirt sizes. Now he's got to turn round and tell some of them they're not coming.

Following the conclusion of the qualification period his team is already eight strong. He boasts the veteran trio of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari, plus five rookies: Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Alexander Noren and Thorbjorn Olesen.

His task on Wednesday is to whittle down a short-list of (probably) 10 to four. Does he seek form ahead of class? Demand experience to offset the five rookies? Should he favour players who have excelled on the course in the past? Is off-the-course character as vital as on-the-course potential?

Bjorn will have reports which reveal the players best suited to the course and most likely to successfully gel with other members of the team. These will be statistical and also psychological. To this he will have added the anecdotal evidence of his vice-captains, caddies, coaches and other trusted advisors. He will have looked all of the candidates in the eye and been left with a feeling of what they can bring to the team (and maybe what some of them are lacking).

As it stands widespread opinion is convinced that Ian Poulter will claim the first of the captain's picks and thereafter it is a head-scratcher. Ask 100 people for their opinion and you'd get close to 100 different answers yet ultimately only one man's judgement matters and we will hear his conclusions at 2 p.m. BST (9 a.m. ET) on Wednesday.

The Candidates:

The apparent certainty:

Ian Poulter

There's surely more chance of France converting from morning croissants to cornflakes than of the Englishman not being invited to Paris. Just as Clark Kent went into a telephone booth and emerged as Superman, so Poulter went into a tent at the Belfry in 1993 as a normal 17-year-old golf fan and emerged from it fuelled by dreams that would turn him into the wild-eyed, chest-thumping whirlwind who would inspire the Miracle of Medinah 19 years later. He's lost just four of 18 Ryder Cup matches, is undefeated in the singles and the American team knows it. It might motivate some to try to take him down, a challenge which Poulter would love.

The experienced enigmas:

Sergio Garcia

How to weigh up Garcia's strength in the match against his poor form? He's competed in the match eight times, compiling 22.5 points and is a foursomes colossus (10.5 points from 15 matches). But since shooting 81-78 when defending his Green Jacket he's made only five of 13 cuts, recording just one top-10. Two further complications: That one top-10? It came at Le Golf National in July. The second? He averaged 3.75 points in his first four Ryder Cup appearances, yet just 1.88 in his last four.

Henrik Stenson

Another experienced campaigner with a successful record in the match. Indeed, the Swede's 100% record alongside Justin Rose was a bedrock of the 2014 victory. His year has been a frustration however. A career-best fifth at the Masters and sixth in the U.S. Open have been overshadowed by an elbow injury. His last four starts have lacked a top-15 finish and his record at Le Golf National is not great. He hasn't played there since 2012 and has broken 70 just three times in 20 attempts.

Paul Casey

The Englishman failed to earn a wildcard from Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and it didn't go down well. In fact he's not played the match since, partly because of lost form, partly because he gave up his European Tour membership in a widely perceived long-term sulk. A change in heart led to him rejoining the Tour last year however, but he has also suffered with injury and his most recent form suggests he'll miss out.

The Hazeltine Debutants:

Thomas Pieters

Memories of the 26-year-old's stunning debut two years ago make him a strong candidate for a pick. He and Lee Westwood were handed a Friday morning thrashing by Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, but he bounced back with four wins and, perhaps crucially, three of them were alongside Rory McIlroy. If Bjorn is keen to rekindle that magic he might concentrate on the Belgian's three top-10s in his last five starts rather than the failure to record a top-5 since January.

Rafael Cabrera Bello

Unbeaten and very impressive two years ago, collecting one win and a half alongside Sergio Garcia ahead of a comfortable victory in the singles. His form struggles might count against him however. He was 10th in the PGA Championship but it is the only time he has hit those heights since going back-to-back in the BMW PGA Championship and Italian Open in late spring.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Finished seventh last week in Denmark when only a win could rescue his hopes of an automatic spot. His resigned look afterwards suggested he believes he needed to achieve that aim rather than rely on an invite. The fact he played two and lost two at Hazeltine only adds to that impression.

The Would-be Rookies:

Matt Wallace

The 28-year-old Englishman was on the fringe of the debate heading into last weekend, but not in his own mind. He boldly stated after his second round in Denmark that he wanted to win to give Bjorn a headache and he promptly did it, thrashing five birdies in his final six holes of regulation and then adding a pair of par-breakers to defeat three play-off opponents. If chutzpah is required, Wallace has got it.

There's even a touch of Poulter about his audacious style and four European Tour wins in just 46 starts is extraordinary by any standards. The case against is that he's yet to win a top grade event, is somewhat unexposed at the highest level, fears about the number of rookies already in the side, and the fact he's missed two cuts and failed to break par at Le Golf National.

Eddie Pepperell

Victory in Denmark last week would have earned him an automatic spot, but it didn't happen and he is alone among the 10 hopefuls in having waved the white flag. "Well, no Ryder Cup for me this year," he tweeted after his final round, adding: "Which is a shame because I was really looking forward to winning zero points." If the match were a panel show, Pepperell would get everyone's pick. Alas, as well as he has played this year (a maiden win and a late dash at the Open), he's unlikely to get the golfing nod.

Russell Knox

Two years ago he couldn't hid his anguish when overlooked by Darren Clarke and he looks set to again be disappointed. Ultimately, like a long distance runner who went hard with three laps to go, he might have kicked too early. He was second in the Open de France, won the Irish Open and was two back heading into the final round of the Scottish Open. A final round 75 followed and he hasn't made a top-30 since.


The smart money suggests that the wildcards won't go to rookies. Indeed the bookmakers consider Poulter, Garcia, Stenson and Casey hot favourites. Yet with injury doubts hovering over the latter two, don't be surprised if Pieters lands a spot. Wildcard alchemy is about more than what a player brings to the team; it is also about what he draws from his teammates. The promise of reuniting Pieters with McIlroy might persuade Bjorn to go beyond the veteran quartet.

Have your say by ranking Thomas Bjorn's 10 wildcard candidates: