Major Champions Henrik Stenson and Danny Willett are seeking big performances in the final four weeks of the Ryder Cup qualification period as they each bid to stake their claims for a place in Pádraig Harrington’s team, starting at this week’s D+D REAL Czech Masters.
Stenson, targeting a sixth Ryder Cup appearance, is making his debut at Albatross Golf Resort, while Willett has previously enjoyed top 20 finishes on the two occasions he’s played in the Czech capital. Willett made his maiden Ryder Cup appearance in 2016, the same year he won the Masters Tournament.
The pair will be under the watchful eye of Harrington this week as the Ryder Cup Captain returns to a venue where he has previously finished runner-up, two strokes behind Italian Andrea Pavan in 2018.
Set to enjoy home support this week is Ondřej Lieser, who is making his first European Tour appearance on home soil since being crowned European Challenge Tour Number One last year. Lieser, the highest-ranked player ever from the Czech Republic on the Official World Golf Ranking, became the first competitor from his nation to top the Challenge Tour Rankings, winning the 2020 Road to Mallorca.
Lieser represented the Czech Republic at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this month, and Silver Medallist from the Men’s Olympic Golf Competition Rory Sabbatini is also in this week’s field, making his first appearance on European soil since the 2019 Italian Open.
Henrik Stenson: “It’s great to be here. After 20 years on Tour there’s not too many weeks when you see a brand-new city and a brand-new country. I’m excited for that. In terms of golf, I’ve been working on my game over the last ten days, and I feel like I’m making some progress – if it’s big enough or quick enough I’m not sure, but it feels like it’s going in the right direction.
“If I want to have any chance to make the (Ryder Cup) team, this is the 11th hour to wake up. I’m playing four weeks in a row on the European Tour with that intention. I hope I can bring a few birdies for Pádraig to consider me in the end, but I need to get going at this point.”
Danny Willett: “We have three or four weeks left now. There’s maybe eight guys on his (Pádraig Harrington’s) radar that can have a good squeeze and a good last month and push in. I’m relatively down on that because I’ve not played loads – but you never know. A solid three weeks out of four, in places I’ve played well, three nice results at those and you never know.
“It’d be great to be on the team. It’d be great to be on every single team, but it takes a hell of a lot of hard work and things going your way to make a 12-man team. You have the best players in Europe and everyone wants to be there. You have eight or ten guys in my position who can make a charge in the next four weeks. It’d be really good to be there.”
Ondřej Lieser: “I’m really excited to play on a golf course which I know, where I’ve played some events before. I’ve said it before, but we should all be really thankful to the promotors of these tournaments and that we have of these tournaments in Czech – especially European Tour but we have Challenge Tour events as well. I was competing at them without a category, on invites, and it helped me grow as a golfer and as a player. I’m really thankful to the promotors and that they are doing an awesome job and bringing the best players in the world to compete.”
Rory Sabbatini: “It’s been incredible, the outpouring of support and appreciation. People going out in the street, stopping and congratulating me. It’s hard to really conceptualise and explain the pride I have. They really have absorbed it as being for the country – that’s what it is. It’s just incredible.
“Golf’s a silly game. It’s proven week in, week out, there’s no sure-fire thing out there. There’s always going to be someone that will surprise, it was just my week to surprise. To compete against the talent and depth of talent in that field and come away with silver is incredible. I’m just very appreciative.”