While some American pros try to turn the Ryder Cup into a Silly Season exhibition, in Europe the players are treating Samuel Ryder's biennial grudge match as a matter of life and death. Literally. On the eve of last week's Volvo Scandinavian Masters the agent of Andrew Coltart the young Scot who is a tenuous 10th in the points race let slip that Coltart and his very pregnant wife Emma are scheduling the birth of their first child around the match. "I think you'll find that the baby will be induced the week before the Ryder Cup," said Chubby Chandler, who also represents Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, both of whom have al-ready qualified for the team. That will allow Andrew to play in the event. When you understand how much he wants to play and how much effort he has put into making the team, there isn't any doubt."
If you think Coltart has got his priorities mixed up, that is exactly the point. The only thing the Ryder Cup seems to induce among many of the top Americans is a sense of apathy, but the scramble to make the European team has a refreshing urgency. Last week at the Masters, conducted at Barseb�ck Golf and Country Club outside Malm� Sweden Colin Montgomerie stormed to a nine-shot victory giving him his first four-victory season on the Euro tour But that was merely the backdrop to the larger story.
European captain Mark James made headlines before the tournament began simply by phoning in his withdrawal. James, 45, has enjoyed a renaissance as a player this year, hovering around the top 10 in the points race throughout the season. (The top 10 earn automatic spots on the team.) For months he has been coy about whether he would rather play on the team or serve as captain though he has left no doubt that it would have to be one or the other James however missed the cut in the two tournaments leading UP to last week's event, falling from 11th to 13th in the standings, and his WD in Malm� was seen as an admission that he is finally embracing the captaincy.
One player willing to dish was Robert Karlsson, the amiable Adonis from Sweden who finished fifth last week to move to ninth in the points race. Karlsson spoke to James by phone two days before the tournament. "Put it this way," said the 6'5" Karlsson, "he's only playing [in the PGA Championship] because he would have to be there anyway to watch all of us. Right now I would be willing to bet you anything that we'll see James as our captain."
With that mystery put to bed, the focus is now on who will play for James. Seven men have earned enough points to all but guarantee them spots: stalwarts Montgomerie and Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal; young guns Clarke and Westwood, both of whom were rookies in '97 at Valderrama but acquitted themselves nicely; and three rookies-to-be, Paul Lawrie, 30, Miguel Angel Jim�nez, 35, who served as an assistant to Seve Ballesteros at Valderrama, and Jarmo Sandelin, 32, the Swede whose game and personality are highly explosive.
This is where it gets interesting. Following last week's Masters, Nos. 8 through 10 on the list are three more would-be rookies with suspect credentials: Jean Van de Velde 33 the Frenchman who will forever be remembered for his collapse at the British Open; Karlsson 29 who has won only twice and in the tour's media guide lists "self-development" as one of his interests which doesn't exactly inspire confidence; and Coltart 29 known more for being-Westwood's brother-in-law than for tournaments left in the points race—the PGA and next week's BMW International Open in Munich. If this lackluster trio holds on, James will be left with the unenviable task of having to select two captain's picks from a group that includes Nick Faldo, Sergio Garcia, Bernhard Langer, Jesper Parnevik and Ian Woosnam. Says Karlsson, speaking for himself as well as for Coltart and Van de Velde, "We can feel a lot of people rooting against us."
Europe's core of 10, as it stands now, is absurdly wet behind the ears and would be a prohibitive underdog at the Country Club. (Sound familiar?) What most European fans are praying for is that Langer and Garcia, 11th and 12th in the points race, respectively, jump into the top 10, freeing James to select Faldo and Parnevik. There was some dismay when Garcia and Langer chose to skip the Masters and tune up for the PGA in the States instead thus forfeiting the chance to earn points Not everyone was downcast though "Hey I'm dad" said Karlsson cracking up at this kind of selfishness. "Are you kidding? I wish they spent more time over there."
Assuming the worst for the European side—that is, that the top 10 doesn't change—then everyone has an opinion on what James should do, especially the players themselves. We can probably eliminate Woosnam. He has finished no better than fifth this season and missed the cut in Malm�. Proving that Ryder Cup fever is not confined to the youngsters, Woosie created a stir last week when he said he had canned his longtime swing coach, Bill Ferguson, and taken up with Pete Cowan, who is Westwood's guy. "It's an all-out effort now to see if I can win or get a good finish," says Woosnam.
If Woosnam is out, that leaves four marquee players for two spots. The most intriguing case is Faldo, who has earned the most points (25) in Ryder Cup history. Despite Faldo's current slump, which dates back to the '97 Nissan Open, the 42-year-old warhorse still has considerable support. "Faldo would be an asset, even if he were only playing at 80 percent," says Montgomerie. "Unfortunately he is not 80 percent at the moment. He has to show some signs of form over the last two tournaments."
Langer could make Faldo expendable. Germany's ultimate driving machine has almost as good a Ryder record as his English contemporary, and he has been very solid this year, including a fruitful trip to Augusta National, where he contended for four days and finished 11th.