Each week, four of the NCG team get together to ask each other the pressing questions. The only rule is the question must be golf related. In this Ryder Cup edition of Fourball, Alex Perry, Dan Murphy, Mark Townsend and Steve Carroll take to the tee to discuss which players they expect to get the wildcard picks, who will make a late run at the team, and which big name is likely to be left out…
Alex: As it stands, Team Europe’s eight qualifiers are Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren and Paul Casey. If qualification ended today and this was the eight, who would you take as the four wildcard picks and why?
Dan: Right now, I would go for Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Thorbjorn Olesen and Russell Knox. I think it is a risk to pick three wild cards on reputation and that’s why Ian Poulter misses out. Actually, I am wary picking two on that basis. I increasingly prefer the idea of taking in-form players rather than those with vast experience but who are not at their best.
Mark: Stenson is my absolute banker and then it gets a little tougher. You can forgive Poulter his 2014 efforts as he was injured and his return to form has been incredible so he’d be next on my list. Garcia I suppose you would have to go with, his best bit of recent form came in France last month, which then leaves one.
I’d want some sort of course form – Olesen has got a third but very little else in recent years, Rafa Cabrera Bello back to back top 5s. If I had to guess what Thomas Bjorn does then I’d say he’ll go with his countryman.
I’d quite fancy something very different in the shape of Spain’s Adrian Otaegui – he’s won the last two matchplay events and he’s been 7th and 12th in France in the last two years. I always like a Ryder Cup team with a slice of the unknown.
Steve: Garcia, Poulter and Stenson – this trio are absolutely mandatory – and then I’m torn between Matt Fitzpatrick and Cabrera Bello. I’ll probably pop for the latter, as he was so impressive at Hazeltine two years ago. Of course, Eddie Pepperell will probably play lights out for the next month and I won’t be able to resist sticking him in the side. This last spot is hard, isn’t it?
Dan: I’m going to pose two questions. Who are you sending out top for Europe in the opening fourballs and who will be our top points-scorer in Paris?
Mark: Shove Stenson and Rose down the order and stick Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood out top against Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed to crush the life out of them. Those two love the course and could well not miss a green between them which will be quite exhausting to play against.
Then we can save Rory McIlroy and co for some of their, err, lesser lights like Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. Oh god, it’s going to be hard isn’t it.
Top gun will be Rose as he’s absolute dynamite on any course and in any format. How he nearly won The Open I’ll never know.
Steve: I think it’s probably time for Stenson and Rose to have a rest, so I’m going to pop for a combination of Alex Noren and Paul Casey to get Europe off to the best start. They both hit the ball a mile and are capable of big birdie streaks – always mandatory in fourball. Casey’s got a point to prove after not playing in the Ryder Cup for so long and he’s got the kind of personality that will thrive in that situation. Noren is just a machine so, in the unlikely event that Casey falters, he just keeps on ticking the score over. I think Molinari, who really gets on with Le Golf National, will be hard to stop if he continues the sort of form we’ve seen over the past couple of months. I expect him to rack up the points.
Alex: I’m torn between the boring answer of going tried-and-trusted with Stenson and Rose – especially with the latter in the form of his life – and sending out a pair of debutants to unleash the unknown on our opponents. I’m feeling risky, so let’s go with the rookies – stick Fleetwood and Jon Rahm out first and watch them destroy the US opening pairing and get that first point on the board.
As for top scorer, I’ve got this feeling about Rahm that I just can’t shake off. I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that he’s going to be our new Poulter for the next four or five Ryder Cups.
Who is going to be the surprise player to make the team? And will there be a high-profile omission? Fourball continues on the next page…