Four golfers with a combined 20-15-9 record in 11 Ryder Cup appearances were among the first five golfers announced Tuesday as having clinched their spots on the European Ryder Cup team for this month's matches at Whistling Straits in Haven.
Veterans Rory McIlroy (11-9-4 in five Ryder Cup starts) and Paul Casey (4-3-5 in four) will join Tommy Fleetwood (4-1-0 in one) and Jon Rahm (1-2-0 in one) in anchoring the European squad for captain Pádraig Harrington. Viktor Hovland, who played his college golf at Oklahoma State, will make his first Ryder Cup appearance.
The automatic qualifying process for the European team will conclude at this week's BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s third Rolex Series event on the 2021 schedule. The top four finishers on a points list based on European Tour performance will join the top five finishers on a list based on worldwide performance, with Harrington scheduled to announce his three captain's picks next week.
Rahm, the No. 1-ranked golfer on the Official World Golf Rankings who leads both points lists, clinched his second Ryder Cup berth based on the European points status, as did Fleetwood and McIlroy. Hovland and Casey cannot be caught on the World points list.
A Ryder Cup rookie in Paris in 2018, Rahm went 1-2 in three matches, but his victory was a big one, taking down Tiger Woods 2 and 1 in Sunday singles play to ensure that all 12 golfers in Team Europe's lineup earned at least one point. He won his first major championship in June at the U.S. Open and added 13 other top-10 finishes this year.
Casey will be making his fifth Ryder Cup appearance, but went 10 years between his third and fourth start in the biennial matches. He has scored at least a half-point in nine of his 12 career matches in Ryder Cup competition and partnered successfully in 2018 with Tyrrell Hatton, who is likely to be an automatic qualifier after the BMW PGA.
McIlroy has played in all five sessions of each of the last two Ryder Cup competitions for Team Europe, but has lost his last two singles matches to fall to 2-2-1 overall. He has finished outside the top 15 just once in his last five starts to close the 2021 season.
Hovland will become the first Norwegian golfer to represent Europe when he makes his Ryder Cup debut at Whistling Straits. The 23-year-old became the first Norwegian to win the U.S. Amateur in 2018 (proving his mettle in the match-play format), on the PGA Tour in 2020 (Puerto Rico Open) and on the European Tour in June (BMW International).
Fleetwood became the European hero of the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in France where he and partner Francesco Molinari won all four matches they played before Fleetwood fell 6 and 4 to Tony Finau in singles. Molinari has been battling a back injury and told the Associated Press last weekend he has withdrawn from consideration for a captain's pick, saying "it's better if someone in better form goes" to Wisconsin.
Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood and Shane Lowry are likely to fill the final four automatic spots on Harrington's squad. Harrington told Sky Sports that he could not envision a scenario in which he would leave Ryder Cup veterans Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia off the team, leaving Bernd Wiesberger, Victor Perez, Robert MacIntyre and Guido Migliozzi to either make the team on points this week or square off against each other in what would amount to a 4-for-1 battle for the final captain's pick.