Commentary

Colsaerts adds length to Euro roster

Updated: August 28, 2012, 3:28 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

There's nothing quite like a little intrigue added to the angst of a European Ryder Cup captain filling out his team.

Three times running, the man doing the choosing has faced controversy over his at-large selections, starting with Nick Faldo in 2008 picking Ian Poulter, continuing with Colin Montgomerie in 2010 leaving two top 10-ranked players in the world off his team, and again in 2012, when a 9-years-ago spat had the conspiracy theorists figuring that captain Jose Maria Olazabal would somehow stick it to Padraig Harrington.

What happened to all of that harmony that supposedly was at the crux of so many European victories?

Alas, this time, there really wasn't that much drama.

When Olazabal announced his choices of England's Poulter and Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts on Monday afternoon in Scotland, few could have been surprised.

For all of the hand-wringing over the Poulter pick four years ago, he turned out to be Europe's best player at Valhalla and has been a rock in his Ryder Cup appearances with an 8-3 record.

Despite failing to qualify for the team on his own, Poulter, 36, had briefly played his way in with a tie for third at the PGA Championship. With wins in big match-play events the past few years on both sides of the Atlantic, the shock would have been to leave out Poulter.

So conceivably, it came down to Colsaerts, a long-hitting 29-year-old who won the Volvo Match Play Championship earlier this year, versus a handful of other candidates, including Harrington, the three-time major winner who has been a part of six European teams.

[+] EnlargeColsaerts/Olazabal
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesNicolas Colsaerts, right, stands with European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal after being announced as one of the Spaniard's wild-card selections on Monday in Scotland.

"Everyone pretty much guessed that Ian was going to be there,'' Olazabal said at a news conference to announce his picks. "That was an obvious one. He has a great Ryder Cup record. He's playing well. He had some issues early in the year [with an illness] but his attitude and spirit has always been great. He's one of those players who likes to be in that situation. It gets the best out of him, playing in the Ryder Cup.''

Colsaerts will be the only Ryder Cup rookie on the European side, making the decision even easier, Olazabal said.

"We do have an experienced team,'' Olazabal said. "His match-play record is very good. He's had a very solid season. On top of that, he's made the strides to try and make the team. He really showed he wanted to make the team.''

Colsaerts has missed just one tournament in the past nine weeks and said the process has been quite stressful.

"Now I've gone from nervous to making the team to nervous to be there,'' he said. "But it's a good problem to have.''

Harrington, 40, tried to make it all the more interesting when he shot 64 in Round 1 of The Barclays, the story becoming more about his 2003 "incident'' with Olazabal at the Seve Trophy tournament, in which Olazabal reportedly was miffed that Harrington called for a ruling when he wanted to repair ball marks in his line.

Believe it or not, that "incident'' hovered amid the speculation.

Still, it is difficult to envision Olazabal, one of Europe's all-time greats in the Ryder Cup -- he is 18-8-5 in seven appearances -- putting such pettiness over winning.

It basically came down to choosing a rookie with vast upside because of his enormous length and putting skills versus a veteran in Harrington who has seen it all in Ryder Cup play.

Perhaps if Olazabal had a handful of rookies already on his squad, he'd have gone for Harrington, who has shown improvement during the summer but still has yet to win on the PGA Tour since his 2008 PGA Championship title.

"I know he tried hard,'' Olazabal said of Harrington, noting his top 10s at the Masters and U.S. Open. "He was 19th on the [points] list. He was a bit down the list. He's a great player . . . But you need to be playing good, simple as that.''

Just five of the 12 players on the European roster at Medinah when the matches begin Sept. 28 have never played a Ryder Cup in the United States, but two of them -- Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy -- have won major championships in America.

Harrington was at the center of the controversy two years ago when Montgomerie -- who had three picks -- chose Luke Donald, Edoardo Molinari and Harrington over Justin Rose and Paul Casey. Both Rose and Casey were ranked in the top 10 at the time, and Rose had won twice on the PGA Tour that year.

This time, Harrington has no one to blame but himself. He lamented as far back as February that not being eligible for the World Golf Championship events -- none of which he subsequently qualified for -- was a blow because of the ability to pick up easy points, whether it be on the European points list or the world points list, which accumulates world ranking points.

In the end, Colsaerts still had a chance to make the team on his own, and that was likely Harrington's best hope. Had Colsaerts finished among the top two at the Johnnie Walker Championship during the weekend (he tied for 19th, same as Harrington's finish at The Barclays), Colsaerts would have bumped Kaymer off the team.

And because Kaymer is one of the few European players not in great form (he's not had a top-10 finish since the Malaysian Open in April), perhaps Olazabal might have picked Harrington instead.

Who is to say that it would have been Harrington anyway? Olazabal had choices such as Spaniards Rafael Cabrera Bello and Alvaro Quiros, and Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, among others.

And think of some other big European names who were out of the running, such as Casey, Henrik Stenson, Robert Karlsson, Matteo Manassero and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who will be a vice captain for Olazabal.

In the end, it turned out to be a pretty easy call for Olazabal. What won't be so easy is retaining the Cup; each of the eight Americans who qualified for the team has won this year.

Then again, Olazabal has nine players on his squad with winning Ryder Cup records. Knowing that, it was going to be hard for him to go wrong with his picks.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com