Dark horses lining up for Cup race

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Every Ryder Cup race has its unexpected twists and turns, and the one starting in on Thursday is bound to be no different.

Every Ryder Cup race has its unexpected twists and turns, and the one starting in Switzerland on Thursday is bound to be no different.

Captain Colin Montgomerie has written down his “dream team” – for his eyes only – and anyone else who follows the sport would probably come very close to the same dozen names if they embark on the same exercise.

But the identity of the men who will try to win back the trophy at Celtic Manor will not be known for a year, and that is plenty of time for things to change dramatically.

Two years ago, for example, who would have predicted that Soren Hansen and Oliver Wilson would earn automatic spots in Nick Faldo’s side?

When that qualifying race began Hansen was ranked 90th in the world and Wilson 136th – up respectively from 157th and 368th at the start of the year!

If you had taken the top 12 names off the rankings at that point the team would have Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Niclas Fasth, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Anders Hansen, Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and Robert Karlsson.

Twelve months later Donald and Olazabal were injured, Fasth, Hansen and Montgomerie had all failed to make it, Rose clinched his place only in the final week – and Casey and Poulter needed wild cards.

In 2005 Thomas Bjorn was the fifth-ranked European at 20th in the world when the points gathering began, but he did not make it – just as he had failed to the previous year after starting that race 21st in the world and Europe’s fourth-best player. Paul McGinley, ranked 167th, did go on to qualify.

Remember too that the 2002 side included Phillip Price and Pierre Fulke and that in 1999 Harrington, with only one Tour win to his name at the time, finished second in the last two counting events and squeezed in along with 19-year-old Garcia – who just five months before the match was still an amateur.

So who might be the dark horses this time?

Rather than have a stab at that myself I asked a group of European Tour players for their choice of someone who might emerge out of the pack in the coming months.

The rules were that they had to go for an uncapped player outside the current top 12 Europeans on the world rankings.

Here then are five outsiders for a cup spot, in no particular order:

CHRIS WOOD

Virtually unknown when he finished fifth in last year’s Open as an amateur but at Turnberry in July the 6ft 5in Englishman, still only 21, went even better. A closing par would have put him in the play-off with Tom Watson and Stewart Cink, but like Westwood he bogeyed.

He has climbed to 64th in the world despite not being eligible for some of the bigger events as a Tour school graduate last November.

John Morgan said: “You might say I’m biased because he’s a Bristolian like myself – but honestly he’s got some serious game, that chap.

“His work ethic is fantastic. He’s like Langer and Faldo in how he works at it, and you know what you are going to get – some solid play. That makes him a good partner for somebody.”

FRANCESCO MOLINARI

Just nine months after his older brother Edoardo had won the US Amateur title, Francesco became the first home winner of the Italian Open for 26 years in 2006.

Now 26, he was 13th in The Open and 10th on his debut in the US PGA last month – lifting him to 66th in the world. He might have been even higher but for being disqualified from the Irish Open in May after signing for the wrong score the day after shooting 63.

Stephen Dodd said: “There’s no real weakness in his game. He does everything well.

“I just think as time goes on he’ll get the experience of being in winning positions and is going to win his fair share of tournaments.”

GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO

Thankfully known as ‘Gonzo’ for short, he is currently 42nd in the world just behind countrymen Miguel Angel Jimenez and Quiros.

He beat Westwood in a play-off for the British Masters last season and has had four second places already this year to be 10th on the European money list.

Simon Khan said: “He’s capable of winning a couple of times at least, and maybe even a big one at the right time.

“He’s mercurial, but when he’s on his game he’s fantastic. He can be a bit wild sometimes, and his putting seems to come and go. But to make the Ryder Cup team you’ve got to be exceptional in some areas, and he’s got both length and great iron play.”

SIMON DYSON

A team-mate of Casey and Donald in the 1999 Walker Cup, Dyson made his name in Asia after failing to earn a European card at the first attempt.

The 31-year-old has now won twice in Holland, the second of them only a fortnight ago, lost a play-off for the 2007 Volvo Masters and was sixth in the US PGA that season.

Uncle Terry played for Tottenham’s double-winning side in 1961 – and he was on York City’s books as a youngster.

Gary Murphy said of the world number 109: “He’s a player in form. Winning gives you a big lift, and he’s a top-30 player on Tour – so to get from top 30 to top 10 is not a million miles.”

JAMIE DONALDSON

Donaldson helped Casey and Donald to second place in the 2000 world amateur team championship but has had to overcome serious back problems since.

Although only 161st in the world, that makes him the leading Welshman – and next year, of course, sees the match staged on Welsh soil for the first time.

Still to win on Tour, but in his last four starts he has had a second, fifth and sixth.

Compatriot Bradley Dredge said: “He hits the ball very straight and is pretty long as well.

“He’s been stringing together some great results lately. I think he’s always been capable, and it seems as though he’s now learnt what works for him.”

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