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European Ryder Cup qualification nears climax

Europe's remaining Ryder Cup hopefuls will be looking to seal their places for The Belfry on both sides of the Atlantic this week as the race for points reaches its penultimate lap.

While Phillip Price, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ian Poulter try their luck in the World Golf Championship NEC Invitational in Ohio, Andrew Coltart, Andrew Oldcorn, Mathias Gronberg and Robert Karlsson will be looking for sizeable points hauls in the Scottish PGA at Gleneagles.

Price has managed to hang on to his 10th place in the European Ryder Cup table, despite all predictions, and the Welshman plays at Akron this week looking to consolidate in a tournament which carries a huge prize fund.

Even more significantly, the NEC Invitational boasts a much higher count of Ryder Cup points than its corresponding fixture across the Atlantic.

Price certainly has the pedigree to nail down his debut in Sam Torrance's team.

He made the biggest cheque of his career last year in Akron, Ohio event when finishing second behind Tiger Woods. Second place again would end any doubts as to whether Price will make the top-10 automatic qualifiers with just one more event to count next week, the BMW International in Munich.

Spaniard Jimenez has been told by Torrance that he will not be one of the captain's two wild cards and thus has to elevate himself from 11th place over the final two events. Jimenez is around 70,000 points behind Price.

England's Poulter was another one who defied the odds as he held on to his 12th place in the table to earn a trip to the World Golf Championship event after playing in his first American major last week.

That ensured the 2000 European rookie of the year kept his late dash for a top-10 place and a similar Belfry debut in only his second year on tour.

He is also about 70,000 points behind Price, and just 1,200 behind Jimenez.

Under Threat
If Poulter and Price are on form, then eighth-placed Paul McGinley of Ireland and ninth-placed Bernhard Langer of Germany - who was happy to see his young compatriot Tobias Dier carry off the North West of Ireland European Tour event on Sunday - could yet come under threat.

Having both passed the one million points mark, though, by the end of the US PGA Championship on Sunday, the pair will be difficult to shift. Langer and McGinley are both playing the NEC, and will be looking to hold off all-comers.

Those all-comers come in the shape of Britons Coltart, in 13th place, and Oldcorn, now up to 14th, Gronberg in 15th and fellow Swede Karlsson, in 17th.

A first prize of 267,917 points for any of this quartet, and poor returns from the Firestone players in Ohio, could see significant movement up the table by the men playing at Gleneagles.

Ryder Cup hopefuls at Gleneagles missed out on a chance of playing the NEC Invitational by not being in Europe's top 12 by the end of the year's final major.

One significant absentee from both events, though, is Welshman Ian Woosnam.

The veteran former US Masters champion, who has been playing well recently, looks to have forfeited his chance of playing instead of just being Ryder Cup vice-captain.

He has opted for a Caribbean beach this week instead of the Highlands of Scotland.

Sitting 16th in the Ryder Cup table, Woosnam's only chance now would seem to lie with a wild-card pick.

But that would have to come at the expense of Sergio Garcia, Jose Maria Olazabal or Swede Jesper Parnevik, none of whom feature in tournaments this week because they lie outside Europe's top 12.

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