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From Scotland to New Jersey, Ryder Cup drama takes hold

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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PARAMUS, N.J. -- Two years ago, Ian Poulter would have been squeezing bytes out of his cellphone. Back then, he was puckering in parts of his body that are best left unmentioned.

His language then would have been more colorful than the curious, riotous plaid outfits he parades around in.

Instead, moments after he finished the third round of The Barclays on Saturday, when his caddie handed him his cellphone and told him to take a gander, Poulter all but laughed.

He already has nailed down a spot on the European Ryder Cup side, unlike two years ago, when he was one of the bubble boys hoping for a last-minute captain's pick and agonizing over every birdie, bogey and ill-timed missed cut.

Padraig Harrington, with perhaps an eye on his own standing in Jersey, says results this week should not decide roster spots. (Getty Images)  
Padraig Harrington, with perhaps an eye on his own standing in Jersey, says results this week should not decide roster spots. (Getty Images)  
He picked a great time to be on the inside looking out.

As Poulter thumbed his way through the European Tour leaderboard depicted on his phone, he learned that yet another pick hopeful, rising Italian star Edoardo Molinari, was tearing up the event this week in Scotland. Molinari and his little brother, Francesco, who is already on the team, hold the first two positions with one round remaining at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.

"Wow, 1-2, that's incredible," Poulter said. "What an incredible, incredible scenario."

Incredible and edible.

While most of the golf world has been fixated on the uptick of Tiger Woods, the absolutely unpredictable European Ryder Cup situation has become the most palatable story in golf. Forget the FedEx Cup opener, the seasonal points situation or even the battle for the Barclays title itself. At around 1 p.m. ET, Colin Montgomerie must choose three guys from a group of at least five deserving players -- all ranked in the world top 22.

You want volatility? Forget projected FedEx figures.

Two of those players in the top 22, Paul Casey and Luke Donald, are ranked Nos. 9-10 in the world, but didn't cement one of nine automatic Ryder positions and are trying to get noticed by Monty from 3,300 miles away.

"If somebody who is 10th in the world doesn't make the team," Donald said after shooting 68 on Saturday, "maybe they need to take a look at how the team is selected." Good point -- though mostly moot, since it's a matter for 2012. At the moment, it's musical chairs and the mosh-pit punk tune being played sounds like the Sex Pistols. Two players from the list of Padraig Harrington, a three-time major winner, Justin Rose, a two-time PGA Tour champion this year, plus Casey, Donald and Edoardo Molinari aren't going to get a nod.

We would say that this is why Monty is making the big bucks, but if the Euro team is run like ours, the captain doesn't even get paid. Counterpart Corey Pavin doesn't have to sweat out the four at-large selections for his squad until Sept. 7.

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The print coverage of the Ryder situation at the Johnnie Walker has been unbelievable. Every story emanating from the tournament site has included conjecture regarding which way Monty may be leaning and why.

"It's ridiculous," said Christian Donald, Luke's brother and the caddie for Casey. "It's almost an obsession."

Folks in the States never will fully grasp how big the Ryder is in Europe, where only soccer trumps it on the continental sports stage. In a way, while Harrington, Casey, Rose and Donald all were criticized in some quarters for playing this week in the States vs. the Gleneagles event -- where Monty is camped and eyeing every bit of minutiae -- it's calmer in New Jersey by comparison.

"All of these scenarios and permutations," Poulter said. "Crazy."

It has been like tracking moving pieces in a chess game, with the exception that nobody knows whether Monty already has decided on which players he has categorized as kings or pawns. For the four players in the States, he will be announcing the picks before The Barclays final round is completed, so Saturday's results seemingly carried extra weight.

Rose, who played on the 2008 Ryder team, said he wasn't looking at Saturday's round as a last-minute audition, but was glad it might be perceived as such. His 6-under 65, which vaulted him into the top 10, was well-timed -- it represented his lowest round since he won the AT&T National on July 4. He missed the cut at the final two majors of the year.

"Today was the day, bud," Rose said, grinning. "Glad to put a little reminder in there."

Harrington, who began the third round in The Barclays tied for seventh and slipped to T12 and is tied with Casey, walked past Donald on the way to the range Saturday with a cellphone in each hand. He was keenly eyeballing something on one screen.

"Checking out the European Tour results from today?" I asked.

"No, not right now," he said.

Maybe he should have. The Molinari move up the Gleneagles scoreboard might have proved inspirational, like the cracking of a bullwhip.

Molinari presents the most interesting of the plentiful Monty options. Though few believe he will use a pick to select a Ryder rookie -- Edoardo was playing on the developmental Challenge Tour in Europe a year ago -- there's ample reason to pick him. He and Francesco won the World Cup team event last fall and would make a formidable pairing in alternate-shot and best-ball formats.

Harrington, meanwhile, hasn't won in two years and admitted this week that he has definitely had the Ryder on his mind, which is forever, admittedly, busy.

"You don't want to believe that it comes down to one particular week as in you don't necessarily want to think that three guys, somebody doing well here has an advantage over somebody not doing well here," Harrington said. "It should go on the whole year."

Of course, if Paddy was 12 under and leading The Barclays, he freely admitted that he would be crooning a different tune. Oddsmakers in the U.K. have made Paddy the prohibitive favorite to claim one of Monty's wild-card picks -- in Britain, you can bet on practically anything -- although few seem to recall that he is an abysmal 0-7-2 in his past two Ryder appearances.

That said, will Monty lean toward experience? Of the nine automatic picks atop the Euro points list heading into Sunday, five are Ryder rookies. If he goes with the hottest available hand regardless of Ryder experience, then Molinari might bring the rookie tally to half the team. Molinari can't crack the top nine in points no matter what he does Sunday, incidentally, so he's standing in the handout line with the four guys in Jersey, too.

"No matter who gets picked, there is going to be a discussion about it," Poulter said. "It's going to be a great Ryder Cup -- lots of great players in great form."

For the Euros, there's only one grating Sunday left to endure.

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