Ryder Cup picture coming into focus for Faldo

Ryder Cup picture coming into focus for Faldo

Poulter finished at seven under par, alone in second place.
John Biever/SI

Padraig Harrington isn’t the only multiple British Open winner who’ll be dancing a jig tonight. His win clinches a spot on the European Ryder Cup team, which no doubt pleases Nick Faldo, who must soon decide how to two use his two captain’s picks.

Entering the week, Harrington was no shoo-in to make the team on points. So Faldo fired a warning shot, challenging big-time players to improve their play as the September contest at Valhalla Golf Club approaches.

“It’s time for them to step up,” he said this week, pointing a finger in the Irishman’s direction. “We all know that if you start counting your chickens you get a swift kick up the backside. The next bunch of guys must start looking ’round when Tiger is off and make the most of the opportunity.”

Harrington said it was nice to no longer have that headache to worry about. “It’s great to be on the team now,” Harrington said. “The last thing I wanted was to be sweating over getting a pick.”

If the week was great for Harrington, it was good for Europeans in general, including 2004 Ryder Cup veteran Ian Poulter. A final-round 69 gave Poulter (7-over for the championship) his first runner-up finish in a major. “I’ve certainly put myself right back in the picture for the Ryder Cup,” he said. “It’s amazing what one week can do to your whole year. Hopefully, this will give me a springboard to make a massive push over the next few weeks before the team gets picked. It was great to be in it four years ago. I want to be on that team. I feel I’ve got a lot to offer. Especially if I play like I did today.”

Poulter is now 12th in the Ryder Cup points standings, and he said his performance at Birkdale has given him the confidence to further improve his position. “There was a great buzz on the back nine,” he said. “The crowd was awesome-screaming and shouting and driving me on. There’s plenty more in me. I’m fairly happy, but it’s all about winning. It’s a helluva performance from Padraig. Every credit to him.”

With his Sunday 71 and a tie for third with Greg Norman, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson leaps to sixth place in points and is now a lock to have a seat on the team plane. Joining him will be countryman and likely playing partner Robert Karlsson, who posted a 69 to tie for 7th with 12 others (at 12-over), including Paul Casey and David Howell. “Stenson and Karlsson will be happy to be on the team,” Harrington said.

Casey’s strong finish has taken him to 19th in the points race. Howell remains off-the-radar, but he hasn’t given up hope of making his second Ryder Cup appearance. “Who knows?” he said Sunday after firing a 67, the best round on a brutal day. “If I win the Bridgestone Invitational and do well at the PGA [Championship], there are still some big tournaments left.”

Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell has secured his name on Faldo’s team sheet, finishing T-19 (14-over), a strong follow-up to his Scottish Open win last week at Loch Lomond.

Sergio Garcia finished T-51 (17 over), after a dismal final-round 78. “Whatever chances I had [to win], I threw them away on the back nine,” Garcia said. “I just went brain dead. I couldn’t think straight and didn’t make any good decisions.”

Faldo will be hoping the Spaniard gets his brain fixed soon because he has dropped out of the automatic spots for the Ryder Cup after his dismal T-51 (17 over). Lee Westwood’s place is assured despite finishing T-67 (20 over), but Justin Rose is now clinging to the 10th and last automatic spot after finishing T-70 (21 over).

And then there’s the 45-year-old Colin Montgomerie. Monty finished T-58 (18 over), not exactly what he had in mind. But Harrington, who has partnered with Monty in past Cups, did the Scot a favor by taking one of the automatic places and making a plea to Faldo.

“I look forward to playing with anyone in the team, but it would certainly be a pick of mine to go for Monty,” Harrington said. “He is a totally different man when it comes to the Ryder Cup. I don’t think any player would not want to tee it up in a four-ball or a foursome with him and go out there and take on anyone in the world. Monty clearly performs better by being the player captain. He likes to be out in front and leading.”

As it stands, with Luke Donald recovering from a wrist injury, Faldo’s two captain’s picks seem likely to come from the trio of Poulter, Casey and Montgomerie, assuming that Garcia will surely win enough points to climb back on the team.

The odds are improving for Monty, who may be dancing a jig of his own. Or maybe that’s a temper tantrum.