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Wildcards named for Ryder Cup

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Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia stand on the 11th tee during round three of The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida on May 11, 2013. AFP

Wildcards named for Ryder Cup

Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson were handed the four wildcard picks to make the European Ryder Cup team on Wednesday, as captain Thomas Bjorn put his faith in experience.

All four players have been part of multiple winning sides, although Spaniard Garcia has struggled this year, missing the cut at each of the last five major tournaments.

England’s Poulter, a talisman for Europe in past Ryder Cups, has returned to form this year after missing the 2016 defeat by the United States at Hazeltine.

“All four bring loads of experience, points and know how to win and lose and they will bring plenty of heart,” Bjorn said.

British Open champion Francesco Molinari, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, English trio Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren and Thorbjorn Olesen had already qualified automatically for the event to be held just outside Paris from September 28-30.

Bjorn opted for 2017 Masters champion Garcia ahead of Belgian Thomas Pieters, who won four points two years ago as a rookie, Rafa Cabrera Bello and the in-form Matt Wallace, having already seen five rookies make the side.

“The one thing about Sergio is that he’s the heartbeat of the team. It’s like a football team going without their captain, that’s what it’s like for us,” the Dane said.

It will be the 38-year-old Garcia’s ninth Ryder Cup appearance, having been the youngest man to play in the event’s history as a 19-year-old in 1999.

Talisman Poulter returns

“It probably wasn’t an easy decision for Thomas Bjorn,” Garcia admitted. “He knows what I bring to the team, game-wise and in the team room. It’s been a tough year, but I’ve been working hard and I feel like my game is coming along. I’m now ready to try and help the team win the Ryder Cup back.”

American captain Jim Furyk also called on experience when he added Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to his team on Tuesday, but both have failed to regularly produce their best in Ryder Cups, unlike Garcia and especially Poulter.

The Englishman inspired the greatest comeback in the tournament’s history at Medinah in 2012, when he dragged Europe back to a 10-6 deficit heading into the singles with an astonishing run of birdies playing alongside Rory McIlroy.

“This feels extra special to be part of and for Thomas to give me the call yesterday means absolutely everything,” said Poulter. “It will be an incredible spectacle, it’s an extremely strong US team but I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.”

Poulter had slipped outside the top 200 in the world rankings at the start of 2017, but signalled a return to form with victory at the Houston Open in April.

“When he gets confident, he hits that European badge hard,” said Bjorn. “He is a man for the occasion and he is a special person.

“Sometimes you think him and Sergio should have been footballers, because they like the team aspect so much.”

Bjorn persuaded Casey to become a member of the European Tour in order to be able to qualify for the team, and has drafted in the 41-year-old for his first Ryder Cup since 2008.

He held off a charging Woods to end a nine-year wait for a PGA Tour title at the Valspar Championship in March, and has an excellent matchplay record, making a famous hole-in-one in Europe’s crushing 18.5-9.5 triumph in 2006.

“I rejoined the European Tour and I’m playing some of the best golf I’ve ever played,” he said. “I only wanted to be a part of the team if I could do that.”

Former British Open champion Stenson has been hampered by an elbow injury this season, but was always likely to get a pick if fit after striking up a successful partnership with Rose in recent Ryder Cups.

“Stenson and Justin Rose love each other, and you have to look at how other players react to the players coming in,” Bjorn said.

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