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Looking Forward to Firestone

A retrospective look at qualifiying

Posted Aug 02, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece


A look back at this week at Firestone 10 years ago, prompts fascinating memories of what was, and what might have been.  That was the occasion when Ireland’s Paul McGinley was on the brink of making a breakthrough into the Ryder Cup team for the scheduled matches at The Belfry a month later.  What nobody could have imagined, however, was that it would be another 13 months before the event was actually played.  And an equally unlikely outcome was that McGinley would become the hero of the hour. 
It should be noted that the fixtures were reversed in those days. In other words, David Toms was a surprise winner of the PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club the week before Firestone, where victory went to a chap named Woods who was something of an expert around that particular track.

When the NEC had been put to bed with Darren Clarke third behind Woods, McGinley studied the figures in the light of his own, 26th place finish.  He then consulted his then manager, Andrew Chandler, and eventually decided to compete later that week in the BMW International Open in Munich, the final qualifying event for the European Ryder Cup team.

Very strange things would need to have happened to foil the Dubliner of a place in the side, but very strange things did, in fact, happen to Eamonn Darcy in similar circumstances 10 years previously. That was when Darcy opted to miss the final event of the 1991 Ryder Cup qualifying battle and was squeezed out by David Gilford, by a margin of only 58.26 points in the team for Kiawah Island.    

Going to Germany, the top six players in the Ryder Cup table were: 1 Clarke; 2 Thomas Bjorn; 3 Padraig Harrington; 4 Colin Montgomerie ; 5 Pierre Fulke (Sweden); 6 Lee Westwood.  As things turned out, all six of those players made the team along with Niclas Fasth, Bernhard Langer, McGinley and Phillip Price.  Jesper Parnevik and Sergio Garcia were picked at Sam Torrance’s wild cards.  The decision to go to Munich was a sound one for McGinley is that he was tied 10th behind John Daly who enjoyed his last victory on European soil.  But because of the horror of what became known simply as 9/11, the match didn’t actually take place until September 27th to 29th of the following year.  That was when McGinley secured the half-point which made certain of a European triumph by sinking a nine-footer on the 18th against Jim Furyk.

Meanwhile, that particular staging at Firestone takes on added interest right now in view of the much-anticipated return to action of Woods. Through his third successive victory there in 2001, he landed another telling hit on the seemingly impregnable citadel of Jack Nicklaus, in the great man's home state.  With his 29th tour win, Woods equalled the record established by the Bear for a player in his twenties.

And the Woods appetite for success seemed undiminished, despite tournament earnings which had then reached $25,989,198 in the US alone.

"I sometimes sit around and wonder how in the world a young man who's signed $100 million worth of contracts and has won as much as he has, can still come out and be a pretty likeable guy," said Hal Sutton,  who finished 11th behind him on that occasion.  "Tiger handles himself well.  I don't see how any of the other players can be jealous."

As McGinley discovered in the race for the 2001 Ryder Cup, things don’t always turn out quite as you expect them to do.  Mind you, there is no official record of Sutton having revised his opinion of El Tigre, though he had ample opportunities of getting up close and personal to the great one when he captained the US Ryder Cup team at Oakland Hills in 2004.

- Dermot Gilleece

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