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'I didn't do him a favour. Stevie did himself a favour'

You could tell it was a special day at Wentworth.

It was the decision between Lee Westwood and Luke Donald with which Europe captain Paul McGinley struggled most. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Sport
It was the decision between Lee Westwood and Luke Donald with which Europe captain Paul McGinley struggled most. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Sport

Even Jimmy Tarbuck was kicking about in the shimmering clubhouse's opulent splendour. Now he would've been a wild card and a half.

It wasn't Live from Her Majesty's, of course. Mind you, it almost wasn't Live from Wentworth. The fanfare that greeted Paul McGinley's unveiling of Stephen Gallacher, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood as his captain's picks for the Ryder Cup threatened to become as flat as the mood of the snubbed Luke Donald as the respective telephone lines that the chosen three were linked up to in their various boltholes crackled and popped down the amplifiers like an industrial-sized bowl of Rice Krispies before going silent.

They probably would have had more luck using Alexander Graham Bell's prototype.

"Good morning guys, I can hear you," chirped up Poulter, just as all seemed lost amid an awkward, prolonged hush. "Poulter's never beaten," responded a smiling McGinley. It was a spontaneous, yet somehow fitting exchange.

The Messiah of Medinah, who engages with the Ryder Cup like no other event and has racked up 12 points out of a possible 15 down the seasons, was never going to be left out. But who was? The growing consensus was that Donald would be the odd one out and so it transpired. As for Gallacher?

Well, as uncomfortable and as excruciating as his wait for confirmation of a call-up was, the Scot didn't need to worry. His uplifting antics in the Italian Open last weekend, where he finished third to just miss out on an automatic qualifying place, had sealed the deal.

"The second easiest decision for me was Stephen Gallacher," admitted McGinley, as he reflected on that rousing Turin title tilt. "He pushed himself over the line. I didn't do Stevie a favour, he did himself a favour."

McGinley himself qualified for the 2004 Ryder Cup with a spirited showing in the final counting event and he knew exactly the agonies Gallacher was going through. The Scot's mettle was tested and he rose to the challenge.

"The biggest factor was Stevie stepping up to the plate," added McGinley, who is equally well aware of Gallacher's impressive pedigree on Gleneagles' PGA Centenary course with seven top-10s on the tour since 2001. "The stats are important but they are not the be all and end all. They were maybe 15% of the decisions. So much of it is instinct and the dynamics of what players are going to bring to the team.

"More than anything else, it was Stevie's ability to stand up when it mattered in the last counting event and produce the performance that he did under extreme pressure. I can relate to that from 2004. I know how I felt, how my stomach was.

"I couldn't sleep at night. I know how much it meant to be on that team. All credit to him. He proved that he could do it. He's going to be able to handle Gleneagles. He's going to stand out there so proud when everybody is cheering him from the home country."

And what did Gallacher say to McGinley when he took that career-changing phone call on Monday night? "His first words were 'that's brilliant wee man'," chortled the Dubliner.

To be involved in a Ryder Cup on home soil, the first in Scotland since 1973 at Muirfield where his uncle Bernard made the third of eight appearances as a player, has been a lifelong goal for Gallacher. His prize is now only three weeks away.

"It is very emotional," said Gallacher, the first Scot to be handed a wild card since Colin Montgomerie 10 years ago. "I've worked very hard. I knew I'd have to have the best year of my life to qualify. I put a plan in place to do it and I've made it.

"It's been 40 years since a Ryder Cup was in Scotland. My generation probably won't see it again back here. This was my only chance."

At the Bathgate club, which spawned two Ryder Cup players and captains in his uncle Bernard and the redoubtable Eric Brown, Gallacher will now join a decorated roll of honour. "You go to the club and there are pictures of Bernard and Eric; I always wanted to join them," he added.

Gallacher and Poulter would turn out to be the easy picks in a task that was far from easy. "Westwood finished 16th on the points list and I called everyone ahead of him," said McGinley, who also dialled up Bernhard Langer, the German veteran who has scored multiple wins on the Senior Tour this season. "He wasn't a consideration for a pick but I called out of respect," he added.

The decision between Westwood and Donald, "two pillars of the Ryder Cup", was tighter than the duck's proverbials, however. Donald has never played in a losing team, he has only four defeats in 15 matches and has won five out of six ties in the foursomes and fourballs having forged a formidable partnership with Sergio Garcia.

Westwood, meanwhile, is a veteran of eight cup contests and is viewed as a leader of men on and off the course. Both have had largely underwhelming seasons and, in this game of fine margins, it came down to those little things that can make a significant difference.

Westwood finished seventh in the Masters and won in Malaysia earlier in the year but endured a prolonged slump until a closing 63 in the Bridgestone Invitational in August. He also shared the lead in the following week's PGA Championship after an opening 65.

"Ultimately, that little flourish of form that Lee showed then was a flourish Luke wasn't able to show," McGinley stated. "That's how close it was. I told Lee he wasn't going to get in on past form alone and he stepped up to the plate and produced. Luke played very well and consistent but he didn't produce these green shoots I saw from Lee."

Being the bearer of bad news down a phone line is a fairly grim old task and informing Donald, a man McGinley partnered during the Englishman's knee-knocking debut in the event in 2004, did not come easy.

"His first Ryder Cup, he was so beset with nerves, but he came through," reflected McGinley. "When you have that kind of experience with somebody you never forget it. You bond with them. I have a very strong bond and feeling with Luke, and the next time I see him, it's going to be very tough."

There are more announcements for McGinley to make. Tomorrow, he will name the final additions to his backroom team. Sam Torrance and Des Smyth have had their feet under the table for a while and Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Paul Lawrie are being tipped to join the ranks of vice-captains.

After that, it will be full steam ahead to Gleneagles. "Roll on the end of September," McGinley concluded. "It's going to be a rollercoaster." A bit like the phone palaver at the press conference.

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