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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Tony spoke to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez about the battle to secure a precious place in this year’s European Ryder Cup team:

“Abu Dhabi this week hosts the first Rolex Series event of the year and, if I was Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, I might be inclined to take the opportunity of giving Sergio Garcia a little bit of a gee-up in the Middle East.

Sergio has turned 40 now and I think it’s fair to say that we haven’t heard much from him since he finally achieved his great Major breakthrough by winning the Masters at Augusta in 2017.

He’s the biggest Ryder Cup points winner of all time but I’ve always thought that, in terms of his overall career, he has been something of an underachiever.

Sergio has been one of the best ball-strikers on the planet for the last 20 years and he is now down at 41 in the world rankings. That’s too low for a player of his undoubted talent.

Players like him and fellow 40-somethings like Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson could be significant forces against the Americans at Whistling Straits in September if they start getting their acts together.

Thomas Bjorn, Europe’s captain at Le Golf National in Paris two years ago, caused a bit of controversy by picking Sergio as one of his wildcard choices. It was the right move, though, and the decision was fully vindicated as he went on to claim three points out of a possible four that week.

But the fact remains that a captain cannot keep choosing players who are down the world rankings. Past efforts in the Ryder Cup, no matter how impressive, can only carry you so far when it comes to game time.

Sergio is definitely one of the guys who could make a big difference for Padraig in this year’s matches. The captain will need guys like him, Poulter and Stenson, but equally he will need them to turn up with their A games.

As a captain, you need to know for sure that all your guys are firing on all cylinders leading into the Ryder Cup. You simply cannot afford to turn up merely hoping they will produce the goods when it matters.

Garcia, Poulter and Stenson are the modern-day versions of Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer. Those two guys were invaluable to me when I was in charge, they always rose to the challenge.

Seve was an awesome match-player. He didn’t mind getting up the noses of the opposition. It was almost as if he operated in his own bubble and his attitude was like, ‘Come on then, who’s better than me out here?’.

Poulter is 44 now but he also has to prove that he can still deliver. Age, at the end of the day, gets everyone eventually. In his defence, though, some individuals are stronger match-players than others. That’s just a part of their make up.

Padraig has made the decision to go with three wildcard choices this year. I always wanted four because I felt very strongly that I needed to have the best 12 players available to me that week.

In my day, Manuel Pinero was another example of a great match-player. He was a tough, gritty competitor in the Ryder Cup and an important member of my team.

Who can forget the time Rory McIlroy labelled the Ryder Cup an exhibition event. He said that before he had played in the matches. As soon as he made his debut at Celtic Manor in 2010, he knew straight away that it was anything but an exhibition.

These are things you find out very quickly if you are in that cauldron. You had better come with your game in tip-top condition because no competition exposes a player more than the Ryder Cup.

A lot of guys in the media don’t seem to catch on that match-play golf is a lot different to stroke-play golf. In that arena you are not playing safe, you’re going all out to attack the pins. It’s a different approach altogether.

Back in 1985, I caused a bit of a furore when Christy O’Connor junior narrowly missed out on automatic selection by just a few pounds and I overlooked him and picked Spain’s Jose Rivero instead.

I went for Rivero mainly because he had won at The Belfry earlier that year. For me, it was a simple case of horses for courses.

Christy wasn’t at all pleased but we managed to remedy that back at The Belfry four years later. Who could ever forget that sensational two-iron he struck at the 18th hole to take care of Fred Couples in the last-day singles?

Great stuff. Great days. Great memories.“