Lukey’s Lads: Europeans end year on a high as experienced heads emerge

Ronan MacNamara
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Rory McIlroy poses with the DP World Tour Championship trophy (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The Europeans are certainly roaring into 2023 after a trophy-laden autumn period on both the PGA and DP World Tour and Team Europe Ryder Cup Captain Luke Donald might be wishing the contest in Marco Simone was next week or hoping his players aren’t peaking too early! 

Since the 150th Open Championship in July Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Seamus Power, Tommy Fleetwood, Robert MacIntyre and Jon Rahm have all won at least once and at big events too.  McIlroy has of course returned to world number one courtesy of wins at the CJ Cup and Tour Championship while he also ended 2022 as the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai winner.  The Holywood native has not finished outside the top-8 since missing the cut at the FedEx St Jude Championship. 

Jon Rahm roared to the summit of the European Points List with his DP World Tour Championship win, while McIlroy is in second and Lowry third. Power was in the mix again last week but despite another top-5 finish he has fallen three places to seventh in the World Points List as Alex Noren, Fleetwood and MacIntyre take the three automatic spots currently. 

Fleetwood followed up a win the previous week at the Nedbank Golf Challenge with a tied fifth finish, alongside 2020 Ryder Cup teammate Matt Fitzpatrick, to jump into the second automatic qualifying spot with 35.70 points. The Englishman has returned to form heading into 2023 with the expectation that he will become a major championship contender again. 

Having been in danger of falling outside the top-50 in the world finishes of fourth, first and fifth as well as no missed cut since June has seen Fleetwood rise back to 23rd. With many of the big names putting the clubs away until January it has been a positive end to 2022 for Europe and there is serious cause for optimism at this early stage of Ryder Cup qualifying with the expected team members playing well while experienced players Noren and Justin Rose have shown signs that they might be returning to form. 

Ryder Cup team as it stands: Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood and Robert MacIntyre. 

Expected automatic six: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Shane Lowry, Viktor Hovland, Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick.

Predicted Captain’s picks: Alex Noren, Robert MacIntyre, Tyrrell Hatton, Seamus Power, Justin Rose, Rasmus Hojgaard.

THE HOPEFULS   

Seamus Power  

Set to end the year as number one in the FedEx Cup standings. Was tied for the lead heading into the back nine at the RSM Classic on Sunday before he eventually ran out of holes while a three-putt bogey on 14 also ended his chances. Now a career-high 28th in the world he has established himself as a serious contender to be part of Donald’s side and will have the chance to impress the captain first hand with a Hero Cup appearance in the New Year. 

Alex Noren   

Moving from an outsider to a serious contender and he continued his upward trend with a share of 2nd place in Dubai. Very much coming in under the radar, the Swede would be a welcome addition to what is looking like being an inexperienced European side. Noren is steadily climbing back up the world rankings, now at 41st as he bids to lock in his place in the major championships next year.  

Had the 2018 Ryder Cup player held a few more putts he might have pushed Rahm closer last week. Noren jumped four places into the first automatic qualifying spot and looks like he is back to his best after a lean few years since impressing in Paris. 

Tyrrell Hatton   

Finished in a share of second at the DP World Tour Championship as he ended an inconsistent season on a positive note. Yet to really show up on the big occasion and will look to improve his major championship performances next year. First winless year since 2018. The Englishman has made two Ryder Cup appearances winning two of his six matches in Blue.   We are coming into prime Hatton time with the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai  Should he not qualify automatically he will most likely earn a wildcard pick barring a dramatic drop off in form.  Hatton hasn’t missed a cut since the Irish Open.   

Thomas Detry   

Didn’t play in Dubai last week or on the PGA Tour. Will be committing to his golf Stateside meaning he will be competing for an automatic place on the World Points List. The Belgian fell three places to 8th in the World Points List but has been a model of consistency on both tours. What might go against him is if he can’t win before Donald makes his selections in September. 

Robert MacIntyre   

A player who probably should have made the 2021 team but let PGA Tour card concerns cloud his Ryder Cup bid. Since then the affable Scotsman had become a shadow of his former self, slipping well below the top-100 in the world. However, a win at the Italian Open where he held off Rory McIlrory and Matt Fitzpatrick has re-energised him and he will be a serious contender for a place in Rome next year. Course experience could go in his favour too having won at Marco Simone GC. Has made all of his cuts since winning in Rome although finishes of 32nd and 34th was a lowkey way to round off his DP World Tour season. The Scotsman is undoubtedly on the rise again after falling outside the top-100 in the world earlier this year. 

Rasmus Hojgaard

Two top-10s to round off his season which included four top-10s in his last six starts. Outside the top-100 in the world rankings. Didn’t win this year but seemed to find his feet on the PGA TOUR when invited across the Atlantic. Sixth at the Corales Puntacana, 18th at the Valero Texas Open, 10th at the co-sanctioned Scottish Open were positive showings. Will need to push towards the top-50 in the world and try get into the majors having made just two appearances to date – none in 2022.

Looks like he will have a PGA TOUR card via the Race to Dubai rankings which will give him the opportunity to earn more world ranking points. Will be fighting it out for a wildcard pick and whether he gets selected or not might depend on how experienced the team is looking around him, but he has the potential to be a star turn.

THE OUTSIDERS   

Jordan Smith   

30th in Dubai last week capped off an excellent season for Smith who moved to within touching distance of the automatic qualifying places with his impressive wire-to-wire win at the Portugal Masters. Birdies win holes in Ryder Cups so Luke Donald will be keeping a close eye on Smith who can score heavily. A PGA Tour card beckons for the Englishman which will mean a greater opportunity to earn world ranking points and put himself in the bigger tournaments.  And you would think he needs to be pushing for that top-50 if he is to make an impression. 

Sepp Straka   

29th in the world. A big win at the Honda Classic last year, the big Austrian doesn’t back off. A very streaky player. His inconsistency might go against him, or it might go for him depending on his form by next August. Very much based in the States, Straka has had a poor end to 2022 with three missed cuts in succession after finishes of 45th and 62nd followed his playoff defeat to Mackenzie Hughes. Before that he had a runner-up and sixth place finish in three starts. Straka is definitely one who will go on the slide but will have a fruitful few weeks so it looks like it will be about timing for him. 

Francesco Molinari   

Frankie has shown signs of life lately after a career collapse since finding Rae’s Creek at the 2019 Masters. Missed his first cut since the Scottish Open last week but found some consistency in the summer and fall period of the season. At 155th in the world there should be no greater tonic of motivation than a home Ryder Cup.   

Thomas Pieters   

39th in the world. Was a shining light at the 2016 Ryder Cup. Has all the talent in the world but mentally lacks that consistency. LIV links are a concern for his prospects but he has been a constant presence in the top-50 in the world especially given the scarce ranking points on the DP World Tour. Lacks the consistency of Detry but is more explosive capable of going on streaks of form. 

DON’T RULE OUTS   

Nicolai Hojgaard / Eddie Pepperell / Guido Migliozzi 

Adrian Meronk: Irish Open winner, fifth in Dubai last week. 

Justin Rose: Europe’s forgotten man, was in contention after three rounds of the Houston Open but faded on the final day after being away from the spotlight for a long time. A closing birdie edged him into the top-10.  Put in another four rounds in the 60s at the RSM Classic en route to a 29th place finish.  

At 68th in the world, Rose won’t have to do a lot to break back into the top-50. Left out of Pádraig Harrington’s side in Whistling Straits, Rosey would be a welcome addition to Donald’s charges and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had already had conversations about it.  

The 2013 US Open winner has shown flashes in recent years particularly at Augusta of what he can still produce but while his mind might have been on other matters away from the golf course he could emerge as a motivated character in 2023 with the sting of being left out last year. 

In the likely absence of experienced campaigners, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, an in form Rose would provide much needed experience to what will be an inexperienced European side. If he can put aside his other interests off the course there’s no reason why he can’t make this team. 

Also in the mix are, Danny Willett / Ewen Ferguson / Thorbjorn Olesen / Matt Wallace  

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