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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Bernd Wiesberger closes in on Ryder Cup spot but race goes on at Wentworth

We can only hope the Ryder Cup itself proves half as exciting as the battle to earn the final places in Padraig Harrington’s European team, if a bit less complex.

So much will be determined by 18 holes over the west course at Wentworth; which for all the sniping around that scenario is precisely how Harrington designed it. Neutral observers can enjoy the closing round of the PGA Championship safe in the knowledge there is another, fascinating game in play. Every shot and every leaderboard shuffle matters for those hoping to book a place at Whistling Straits on Monday week.

For now – and it can only be for now, given a diophantine equation looks more straightforward – Bernd Wiesberger looks to have earned an automatic berth in the European side. The Austrian needs a top-50 finish at Wentworth to almost certainly seal a spot via the European points list. With 54 holes played, he ticks the boxes with ease; a 67 on Saturday moved Wiesberger to 11 under par, giving him a share of seventh.

Wiesberger is due credit for the impressive fortitude he has shown with a Ryder Cup debut on the line. After all, he double bogeyed the final hole of last month’s European Masters, when par would have booked a Ryder Cup spot.

The 35-year-old’s response at Wentworth will surely appeal to Harrington. Even more so when you consider Wiesberger was three over after just six holes of this event.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Wiesberger said with a smile. “I just focus on trying to win the golf tournament. You have to push forward and be positive in your approach over every single shot regardless of the outcome.

“Just be positive with that and I feel like I’m good enough to be on the leaderboard. It’s nice to be there, it’s such a great event with the crowd. I am able to play here and just enjoy it.”

Wiesberger represents the easy part. Calculators are needed for the rest, to the point where Archimedes would be left scratching his head. The picture is so fraught that a birdie on the 18th pushed Shane Lowry back inside Europe’s automatic qualifiers at the expense of Lee Westwood, only for an Adam Scott four at the same hole to reverse those positions.

Lowry’s present position, tied seventh with Wiesberger and Sean Crocker, would see him fall short. Westwood could present Harrington with a problem. The 48-year-old, a 10-time Ryder Cup participant who is viewed as Harrington’s likely successor, had looked certain to qualify for so long.

If he does not – and on the basis Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter are regarded as wildcard shoo-ins – Harrington will have to choose between Westwood and, most likely, Justin Rose for the final place in his team. Two into one, with both among Europe’s highest profile players, does not go. It would be a far easier sell should Harrington need to pick Lowry.

“I feel like I had a great chance to make the team in 2016 and I threw it away,” said Lowry after his 69. “I shied away from it a little bit whereas the last few months I have fought my hardest and played my best. It has been good, whether it’s good enough we will have to see.

“It has been a stressful enough week but I am happy with how I have performed. First and foremost I want to win this tournament. I’d love to win this tournament.”

If Lowry does prevail from three shots behind, Wiesberger will have to ensure he finishes inside the top six or his automatic place will suddenly be thrown into doubt. Rose backed up two sub-70 rounds with a 72, meaning a nine under total and tie for 14th.

At the business end, Francesco Laporta’s 14 under means he leads Laurie Canter by one. Scott, Jamie Donaldson, Billy Horschel and Christiaan Bezuidenhout are all one further back.

Harrington will be heartened by the timely return to form of Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick. A third round of 68 moved Fleetwood to the same total as Rose. Fitzpatrick is two shots further back after an identical score on Saturday. Viktor Hovland, another guaranteed member of Harrington’s team, slipped to a 73 for a minus four total.

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