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The deafening screams of “Come on, Tommy lad” permeated Sepp Straka’s ears across five soggy hours at Royal Liverpool on Sunday. The Austrian (-7), a winner on the PGA Tour in back-to-back years, clinched a runner-up place at The Open Championship for his best major finish yet. But a larger prize appears to have also been secured. The burly Austrian now looks odds-on to make his Ryder Cup debut at Marco Simone in Rome, bolstering a European side that is suddenly riding a wave of momentum as the American behemoth mostly staggers below unlikely major winners Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman and metronomic world No 1 Scottie Scheffler.
Straka’s Sunday experience would prepare him for both a Ryder Cup at home, absorbing the support, even if it was directed at his playing partner Tommy Fleetwood, and away, forcing him to block out the noise and focus on his own game.
“Yeah, I think it may have helped me a little bit,” Straka said after reflecting on his round. “Just kind of took the pressure off me. Everybody was worried about Tommy. It was just such a cool experience to be able to play with him on Sunday in such a good week in his home area. Just really special to kind of share that with him.”
The intrigue behind Straka’s rise is connected with a swap at caddie, borrowing from American Kevin Kisner before the John Deere Classic to inspire victory in Illinois and now this breakout at the final major championship of the year.
Outside of Harman, Straka was the only player to reach -8 at any stage of the tournament, quite simply: captain Luke Donald knows Straka’s ceiling is probably higher than anybody outside his European stalwarts Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton and Shane Lowry.
His breakout year, if you even want to call it that after finishing seventh in the 2022 FedEx Cup, begs the question:
What type of player is Donald getting?
Well, Straka led the field in greens in regulation (45) last week, he also came out on top in total birdies made (21) – by four. A dream combination for matchplay, now the challenge is to retain that form for nine weeks.
Straka revealed Donald confided in him during a practice day at Hoylake, handing him a boost by revealing he has “been on his radar for a while”.
“I don’t know about that,” Straka responded when it was put to him that he was now a lock for the team. “But I feel like my game is in a good place. I’ve got a couple more months of tournaments to take advantage of the good play and hopefully I can do that.”
Donald’s plans are now entering their final draft, with the team locked in from 3 September, three weeks out from the big dance in Rome. European players are now limited to just three more events to make their case for a place via the points list on the team: the World Invitational, the Czech Masters and the European Masters.
Sepp Straka led The Open in greens in regulation and birdies made
Will Bob MacIntyre cling on to the final automatic place in Team Europe?
Robert MacIntyre’s crushing second-place finish at the Scottish Open to McIlroy left him deflated heading to Hoylake. So making the cut was an admirable performance in the circumstances. His tied-71st finish at +10 ensures the Scot remains clinging on to the third and final European points place.
If Straka, even as a wildcard, now joins the aforementioned group of McIlroy, Rahm, Hovland, Fleetwood, Fitzpatrick, Hatton and Lowry as locks, while Justin Rose’s vast experience and victory at Pebble Beach is surely enough for a captain’s pick, then MacIntyre will be keen to avoid entering the debate for those final two spots.
If Yannik Paul (fourth), Adrian Meronk (fifth) and Victor Perez (seventh) can’t displace MacIntyre in the next three events, they’ll hope to become one of those lucky two.
Donald’s final decisions will probably come down to that trio, Swedish phenom Ludvig Aberg, Seamus Power and brothers Rasmus and Nicolai Højgaard.
Bob MacIntyre will be desperate to hold on to an automatic spot on Team Europe
Has Justin Thomas played himself out of the American Ryder Cup team?
Away from the glory at Hoylake, Justin Thomas’s plight continued with consecutive major championship rounds in the 80s.
Cut at +11, following that rotten 82 on Thursday, including the painful nine scored at the 18th, Thomas redeemed himself with an even-par round of 71 on Friday.
Tumbling to 24th in the world rankings and on the bubble at 75th in the FedEx Cup standings, he is now in jeopardy of missing the playoffs as one of the top 70 players invited. Thomas must rekindle that fire inside that inspired the most improbable of come-from-behind victories to make up seven strokes on Mito Pereira at last year’s PGA Championship.
If ever there was a Captain America on Team USA, Thomas would relish the role, with his feverish personality likely to rile the Europeans.
The two-time major winner will hope a 6-2-1 Ryder Cup record and a 16-5-3 overall record in team competition for the United States, including 8-2-1 alongside good friend Jordan Spieth, will be enough for a wildcard.
Zach Johnson’s six wildcards will likely come from a group including Keegan Bradley, Spieth, Collin Morikawa, Harman, Cameron Young, Sam Burns, Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau and Thomas.
Justin Thomas endured a dismal Open
Is Brian Harman an outlier or can shorter hitters still thrive in professional golf?
How refreshing it was to witness Harman, with a different style and eclectic mix of ingredients to his game, syphon off a major championship at 36 years of age no less in the era of bombers dominating professional golf.
Harman was unflappable on the greens last week with 58 of 59 putts from inside 10 feet made, but his victory was also built on accuracy off the tee, ranking first in fairways hit (42). Harman is 144th on the PGA Tour for driving distance (293.7 yards), giving up 32.1 yards to McIlroy.
Rory McIlroy isn’t worried by his major drought – so why should you be?
Yes, Rory McIlroy’s major drought will extend to a 10th year since the 2014 Open Championship. Tied for sixth will never be enough for the four-time major winner, but the 34-year-old is resolute and refusing to panic.
“I don’t think that way,” McIlroy remarked when told about the anniversary of his last major victory. “I think about trying to go and win a fourth FedExCup here in a couple weeks’ time, go try and win a fifth Race to Dubai, go and win a fifth Ryder Cup. I just keep looking forward.”