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Last chance for Ryder Cup hopefuls

With neither the NEC Invitational nor the Scottish PGA Championship changing Europe's top 10 Ryder Cup rankings at the weekend, this week's BMW International is the last throw of the dice for those left fighting for a place on the European team.

Phillip Price is proving a difficult nut to crack and the Welshman still holds the vital 10th and final automatic spot, despite finishing only a lowly joint-28th in the NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio on Sunday.

Price's meagre winnings in the United States were enough to keep the ever-growing menace of Englishman Ian Poulter at bay.

But Poulter, despite playing only his second year on tour, is showing great determination to follow up his 2000 rookie of the year award by claiming the ultimate team honour for Europe.

His share of 13th place in Akron, only the second U.S. event he had played, earned him enough to move up to 12th on the European Ryder Cup standings. The young Briton is now only 76,006 points behind Price.

Price has had several players breathing down his neck for weeks, although the Welshman may find enough from the points fund of 1.8 million in Munich this week to stay right where he is.

This even though Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez is only 74,793 points behind him in 11th.

The three spots above Price on the Ryder Cup standings appear cast-iron, however, with Niclas Fasth in seventh, Paul McGinley eighth and Bernhard Langer ninth.

All three players augmented their points in Akron.

Europe's Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance was in Gleneagles last week to see fellow Scot Andrew Coltart miss the cut and Andrew Oldcorn waste a golden opportunity to break back into the top 10.

Coltart's inability to hole several short putts led to his undoing but there had to be some sympathy for the player who competed in the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline after receiving an unexpected wildcard from then-captain Mark James.

He had a hit a splendid approach to just four feet at the last on Friday and knew he needed the putt to stay in the tournament.

But Coltart had to wait for what must have seemed an eternity while a spectator was treated for a broken nose, after being hit by his playing partner Thomas Levet's ball.

While the Scot contemplated the putt that could make or break his immediate Ryder Cup career, an ambulance suddenly sped up to the green. This made Coltart step smartly out of the way, waving the driver away from the line of his putt.

He duly missed the putt, though, and this eventually meant he lost his 13th spot on the Ryder Cup points table to compatriot Oldcorn.

Oldcorn, however, never really took full advantage as he slipped from a very promising position on Friday afternoon to finish only joint 11th in the Scottish PGA, just good enough to move up from 14th place on the Ryder Cup table.

Both Scots will be in Munich fighting for a Ryder Cup place this week and, with 300,000 points on offer for first place, everyone down to Thomas Levet in 20th spot could feasibly oust Price.

That includes experienced Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, although it is becoming increasingly likely that the out-of-sorts double Masters champion will miss out on the Ryder Cup this time.

He would have to mount an 11th-hour bid from 18th place on the standings to get into the European side for The Belfry.

Fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia is another interesting prospect in 19th place. He has already got the nod from Torrance for a wildcard pick but he could really put the cat among the pigeons if his return to Europe this week results in a win and he gets in automatically.

The other wildcard, Swede Jesper Parnevik, has declined to play this week, though, as he would not have secured an automatic Ryder Cup berth even if he won.

Englishman Lee Westwood is also not playing this week but he will not even be playing a friendly fourball at his Worksop home as he gives his injured wrist a well-earned rest.


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