THE Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, which starts today (Thursday), could prove one of the most important golfing events of the summer.
Not only will be the 156-man field be vying for a share of the £1.4 million prize fund but it is also the last counting event in the race for European Ryder Cup points.
One player who knows just how crucial a week Gleneagles can be is Edoardo Molinari. Two years ago the Italian, unable to earn enough points to qualify automatically, knew that nothing more than a win would be enough to convince captain Colin Montgomerie that he deserved one of his precious wild card picks for the 2010 Ryder Cup team.
Molinari duly delivered, making birdies on his last three holes to snatch a one-shot victory.
Unfortunately Edoardo’s challenge this year has been thwarted by a wrist injury but his younger brother Francesco looks certain to make it on to that plane to Medinah, currently lying fifth on the European points list.
The 10 automatic qualification spots will be filled firstly by the players in the top five positions in the European points list, with the remaining five being taken from the world points list. Captain Olazábal will name his two wild card picks the following day.
Edoardo said: “Although I’m sad not to be part of it this year, it’s great to see my brother has almost made it into the team. Hopefully he can put in a good performance at the Johnnie Walker Championship to cement his place. When I was given a wild card into Colin’s team it was one of the best weeks of my life and for those guys challenging for qualification, and in good form, winning the Johnnie Walker Championship may just do it for them too.”
Along with David Lynn, two players who will be looking to do just that are 12th placed Nicolas Colsaerts and 14th placed Rafael Cabrera-Bello. Both will be in the Johnnie Walker Championship field and there could be enough points on offer for one of them to make the side.
Championship director Graeme Marchbank, of Diageo, said: “The Ryder Cup race has gone right down to the wire and it will be fascinating to see who has it in their locker to put in a good performance at Gleneagles. We are looking forward to crowning the 2012 Johnnie Walker Championship winner and seeing the final European Ryder Cup team sheet. It will be interesting to see who makes José María’s two wildcard picks.”
Previous winners of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles include Marc Warren, the only Scot to win, in 2007; Sweden’s Peter Hedblom in 2009; Edoardo Molinari in 2010 and Thomas Björn in 2011.
For the second year in a row the championship organisers have set the Friday ticket price to £5. Once again Gleneagles will donate all the revenue from on-the-day ticket sales to Clubgolf, Scotland’s junior golf development programme.
For full details of the Johnnie Walker Championship visit www.johnniewalkerchampionship.com.