Olazabal To Take Ryder Cup Gamble

For most of the season he has looked a certainty to qualify automatically for the European team, but Jose Maria Olazabal's return to Ryder Cup action after a seven-year absence may now need to come via a wildcard berth.

His Ryder Cup performances in the 1980s and 1990s made him one of Europe's most successful players in the history of the event, and his almost unbeatable partnerships with fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros will live long in the memory of all who witnessed them. His return to the European team this year for the first time since 1999 has long been seen as something of a certainty and a real bonus for captain Ian Woosnam, but now, with just two qualifying events left, Jose Maria Olazabal (pictured) is less sure of his place than he has been for months.

Despite a drastic loss of form over the last two months, however, Olazabal is insisting that he has no plans to alter his schedule in order to take in the final qualifying event - the BMW International in Munich, which begins next Thursday. The 40 year-old Spaniard is hoping that he will be able to do enough in this week's WGC Bridgestone Championship in Ohio to consolidate his position in the final qualifying place.

"I never intended to play in Munich," he said on Monday.

"It was not on my schedule from the beginning of the season and I'm not going to change those plans now. I haven't spoken to Woosie but if I did I'd tell him how I feel. It's a gamble you have to take - there's no point playing tournament after tournament and getting to the Ryder Cup completely drained," he explained.

"Munich would be my fourth tournament in a row and if I go there I'll have just one week off before the Ryder Cup. If I make the team I make the team. I'm not going to guess about my chances of being a wildcard. It's not my decision."

The dual Masters champion started 2006 really well with three top-three finishes on the US Tour before the end of April. However, his best finish since then was his 10th place at the French Open in June and his form over the last few weeks has been a long way below his normal standards. In his last three tournaments he has finished 56th in The Open, he missed the cut at The International and then finished in 55th place at last week's USPGA Championship at Medinah after disappointing closing rounds of 75 and 77.

The good showings at the USPGA from Luke Donald (tied 3rd), Sergio Garcia (tied 3rd) and Henrik Stenson (14th) mean that Olazabal has now slipped out of the top five on the European World List. The next five qualifiers for the European team come from the European Points List, and Olazabal now finds himself occupying the final spot in those standings - leaving him vulnerable to the chasing pack over the next two weeks.

Woosnam will therefore be hoping for a good showing from Olazabal in Ohio this week, otherwise his carefully laid plans may need serious alteration. The omens are good, however. At the same course, Firestone, in 1990, Olazabal fired an opening round of 61 on his way to a stunning twelve-shot victory in the event, and a top twenty-five finish will see him overtake Colin Montgomerie on the World List. Montgomerie easily has enough points on the European List to compensate, and this may well be the outcome that Woosnam is hoping for.

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