Luke’s Blues: Strength in depth can emerge for Europe in Rolex Series

Ronan MacNamara
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Seamus Power (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)

There’s something about golf in Abu Dhabi in January…

While the DP World Tour has had seven events as part of its 2023 season, it feels like the season really begins with the Middle East swing as the best players European golf has to offer take centre stage.

The Rolex Series events have been much maligned since their inception but with double Ryder Cup points on offer and the absence of the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Matt Fitzpatrick, an opportunity presents itself for some other Ryder Cup hopefuls to stake a claim.

The reality is that not all of Europe’s big hitters will tee it up in the Rolex events which will open the door for some fringe contenders to boost their own Ryder Cup credentials.

Of the expected qualifiers for Rome in September, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton are in the field this week at Yas Links with all three having played in last week’s Hero Cup.

Those looking to take advantage of double Ryder Cup points can really lay the foundations for their bid to make Luke Donald’s side.

After the doom and gloom in Whistling Straits in 2021, 2022 saw strength in depth begin to emerge as Europe embark on a changing of the guard with Donald’s charges set to be without eight of the 2021 side.

THE CONTENDERS

Seamus Power

Making his tournament debut in a rare foray across to the DP World Tour. European fans will soon grow accustomed to the Waterford native’s presence as he balances a schedule on both sides of the Atlantic to aid his Ryder Cup bid.

Making just his tenth DP World Tour start – including the major championships – Power’s more global schedule will have an element of networking and getting to know some of his potential teammates.

Currently on the bubble of the World Points list behind Adrian Otaegui, it has been dubbed as unlikely that the Tooraneena man will get an automatic selection but a third PGA Tour title or first DP World Tour win would put him in the driving seat for a captain’s pick.

At 29th in the world, Power will have ample opportunity to impress Luke Donald in the biggest events on both tours.

Alex Noren

Put in an excellent performance in Paris in 2018 and has had a career resurgence over the last twelve months which has seen him rise from 125th to 39th in the world although he has not won since 2018.

The Swede is a very consistent performer and his experience could be vital as Europe go through a transitional phase this summer.

Noren was impressive at the Hero Cup, forming a fine partnership with Thomas Pieters before he was trounced by Robert MacIntyre in the singles.

Making his first DP World Tour start of the season, Noren finished 2022 with two runner-up finishes in as many starts.

Noren has not missed a cut since Ryder Cup qualifying started and is sixth on the European Points List and fifth on the World Points List.

THE BELGIANS

Thomas Pieters & Thomas Detry

The defending champion this week is a player who can definitely bring the X-factor to a European team who were turgid in Whistling Straits. There is no doubt the towering Belgian has world class talent, but he frustrates as much as he thrills.

Pieters ended 2022 inside the top-50 in the world, the first time he achieved such a feat since 2016, the year of his one and only Ryder Cup appearance to date.

One would have to question Pieters’ motivation, with his mentality often holding him back, and he only played 19 times last year as LIV links circled.

Pieters was a standout performer in Hazeltine seven years ago and at just 30, he still has the potential to be a staple of European teams to come, although he enters 2023 well down the rankings in both qualifying formats.

The lack of a Belgian pairing in the Hero Cup was a bemusing one to many, while one can argue his compatriot Pieters has underachieved despite boasting 6 DP World Tour wins, the other Thomas is yet to break into the winners’ enclosure, although it isn’t for lack of trying.

Detry, now with JP Fitzgerald on the bag, needs a win to be considered. If he doesn’t win he won’t get a wildcard pick – it’s that simple.

The world number 85 will be committed to the PGA Tour more as the season progresses and he has impressed across the Atlantic. While plenty find the transition Stateside a difficult one, Detry has been a model of consistency with finishes of 15th, 9th and 2nd among the highlight reel towards the end of 2022.

Yet that win continues to elude him and a player of his ability should have multiple wins. At 11th in the World Points List he is well placed to kickstart his Ryder Cup campaign.

THE SCOTSMEN

Robert MacIntyre & Ewen Ferguson

Again, a Scottish pairing would have been intriguing and might have helped Ewen Ferguson who was gritty and determined in his two halved matches with Richard Mansell but ultimately didn’t produce the quality of golf which saw him quickly pick up two DP World Tour wins.

Bobby Mac was the standout GB&I performer with three points from a possible four including a comprehensive win over Alex Noren which would have caught the eye.

MacIntyre is one of the main contenders for a captain’s pick having been around the scene for a few years and after his 2021 Ryder Cup hopes went up in smoke as the lure of a PGA Tour card scuppered his plans.

Bobby is tenth on both qualifying lists and after dropping outside the top-100, he confirmed his resurgence with a statement win at the Italian Open in Marco Simone GC. If he plays well this season, his success at the Ryder Cup venue will undoubtedly boost his chances.

In contrast, Ferguson, while being a talented youngster, is ranked 140th in the world and will find it difficult to earn major world ranking points and get into the big events.

The Rolex events will be critical for his chances and he probably needs an equally impressive season to the one he had in 2022.

THE ITALIAN JOB

If Francesco Molinari is playing well, he is a must pick if he doesn’t qualify automatically. Not only would he bring a wealth of experience to a potentially inexperienced team but his addition would rekindle a deadly Ryder Cup partnership for Europe as Moliwood would be reunited.

At 40, the former Open champion is by no means over the hill and has been gradually returning to form over the last twelve months. He was joint top points scorer for Continental Europe last week which included a 3&2 win over a misfiring Shane Lowry.

Guido Migliozzi is a curious case… After an impressive 2021, he did absolutely nothing last year, falling as far as 169th in the world before a stunning final round and sensational approach to 18 saw him steal the French Open.

In glimpses, the fiery Italian has shown he has the passion and the dynamism to play Ryder Cup but he will need to find some consistency over the course of 2023.

It would be massive to have a home star in Rome in September and if Molinari isn’t in the side and Donald is stuck for horses, Guido would be a welcome left field addition. Anyone can beat anyone over 18 holes…

Adrian Meronk

Became the first Polish golfer to win on the DP World Tour at the Irish Open before backing it up with another big win in Australia which paved the way to the OWGR top-50 and a Masters invitation.

When the towering Pole wins, he wins big and he enters 2023 in flying form, even if he was overshadowed in the Hero Cup by some of his teammates. Has the potential to be one of the standout players on the DP World Tour again this season and a serial winner after finally breaking down the door.

Victor Perez 

The Frenchman is Europe’s forgotten man, or was! Like MacIntyre, he saw his 2021 hopes fall off a cliff but he was outstanding for Continental Europe last week and he has returned to form since winning the Dutch Open last year.

Sepp Straka

Can produce the sublime and the ridiculous. The powerful Austrian held off Shane Lowry to win the Honda Classic in biblical rain before a summer run of six missed cuts in a row was arrested with a playoff defeat to Will Zalatoris at the FedEx St Jude Classic. A few weeks later he was on the wrong end of another playoff result to Mackenzie Hughes.

Sepp has posted one top-10 since so it is fair to say he is streaky and the timing of his form will be key if he is to catch Donald’s eye.

At 25th in the world, he makes a rare DP World Tour start this week.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

The Hojgaard’s are tipped to be Ryder Cup stars for decades to come and it is unclear whether 2023 will be beyond them.

Rasmus is on the bubble and his withdrawal from the Hero Cup was gleefully accepted and capitalised on by his twin Nicolai who emerged as a potential ace in the pack.

The twins have five DP World Tour wins between them but it is stages like this where they will need to catch the eye.

Jordan Smith

In regular DP World Tour events he is often a standout name, but can he mix it with the big boys?

The Englishman ended a year inside the top-100 for the second time in his career last year and will need to push towards the top-50 and play his way into the bigger events to move up a level if he is to be selected.

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