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Limited-field events give a lucky few an unfair advantage in Ryder Cup qualification

This correspondent is a man of fairly simple tastes.

Stephen Gallacher can secure some vital Ryder Cup points in the Volvo Golf Champions event. Picture: Getty Images
Stephen Gallacher can secure some vital Ryder Cup points in the Volvo Golf Champions event. Picture: Getty Images

My idea of gourmet dining is sprinkling some hand-torn basil over a Pot Noodle and sooking it up off the linoleum floor in the scullery.

The grinning, goading celebrity TV chefs would be furious, particularly at this time of year when they smugly career around their eye-wateringly expensive kitchens, piecing together a triumphant festive feast with the finest ingredients known to man while urging a slack-jawed nation that can barely trim a sprout to rustle up a succulent five-bird roast.

Yes, Christmas is looming menacingly on the horizon like a wide line of barbarians preparing to encircle a thinly manned redoubt and soon we'll all be overwhelmed by its furious onslaught.

At least one thing is settling down amid the frenzy: golf. After a close season that was shorter than Jimmy Krankie's semmit, the European Tour has now gone into hibernation for a whopping 26 days and will blink and yawn itself awake again in South Africa at the Volvo Golf Champions' event. As the winner of the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year, Stephen Gallacher will be Scotland's lone representative in a line-up made up of European Tour champions from the 2013 campaign.

Like the Nedbank Golf Challenge a couple of weeks ago, the Volvo event is a financially rewarding, limited field jamboree and, for the 2014 edition, it has an increased purse of $4m, up some 50% on this year's affair. It will be very much a case of 'nice work if you can get it' and for those players who will be chasing the pots of gold in the Rainbow Nation, then good on them. These are the benefits that come with winning, after all.

Gallacher will be keen to get cracking in an event that will give some players a substantial head start over their peers in their bid for a place on the European Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles in September.

And therein lies a small problem. If a qualifying process is supposed to be equitable and open to all and sundry, is it fair that a few get the opportunity to fast track themselves to the front of the queue? The aforementioned Nedbank event featured just 30 players but offered a considerable prize fund of almost €1m and a huge number of Ryder Cup points. A resurgent Thomas Bjorn, who got his Ryder Cup assault up and running with victory in the European Masters in September, bolstered his Gleneagles crusade with a thoroughly deserved victory which propelled him into second place on the European points table from where the first four automatic qualifying places will come from. There is no doubt that 42-year-old Bjorn, with all his experience and fiery competitive spirit, would be a significant asset in Team Europe and he certainly picked the right event to make a statement of intent.

On offer were almost the same amount of Ryder Cup points as the winner of May's European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, will receive and more than the victor of January's Dubai Desert Classic will be awarded for defeating the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. And these, remember, are full fields. They say that guid things come in sma' bulk and for those players who gain entry to these streamlined, yet highly lucrative contests, that is certainly the case.

Craig Lee is currently Scotland's highest placed player on the European points list at 22nd. Scott Jamieson, who will miss the crucial Middle East swing in January due to impending fatherhood, is 33rd while Gallacher is 34th. Paul Lawrie, one of the heroes of Medinah in 2012, is toiling down in 70th place and has now slithered to 109th in the world rankings from the top-30 a year ago.

If there is to be any Scottish representation in Paul McGinley's 12-man side, then the home hopefuls will need to come out with all guns blazing in the new year. When hostilities resume in early January, it will be Gallacher who will have a chance to steal a march on his rivals. Against limited numbers, it's an opportunity that must be seized.


From a golf writer's perspective, the increasingly jam-packed nature of the schedule can cause no end of tut-tutting and sighs of despair as the battle for coverage rages.

With various organisations, both amateur and professional, male and female, falling over themselves to shoehorn events into the calendar year, it is inevitable that there will be clashes. A quick scan through the 2014 diary quickly flags up one or two collisions. The Masters going up against the Scottish Boys' Championship, for instance, has probably worked the Augusta heid bummers into a fearsome fankle.

One of the more serious cross-overs comes in the peak season. From July 10-13, the domestic showpiece, the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, takes place at Royal Aberdeen. The same week, the Weetabix Women's British Open gets underway at Royal Birkdale. Unless we get our finger out and invent a teleporter, then we won't be in two highly significant places at once.

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