Olesen, Pepperell, Fitzpatrick fight for Ryder Cup spot
Back at the course where he grew up playing, Thomas Bjorn will get a front-row seat to see a three-way fight for the final qualifying spot in his Ryder Cup team.
The European captain returns to Silkeborg Ry Golf Club this week for the Made In Denmark event, where Thorbjorn Olesen, Eddie Pepperell and Matthew Fitzpatrick will bid to become the eighth automatic member of a team seeking to regain the trophy from the United States in Paris.
Seven places have already been filled: Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Alex Noren. The final four spots will be decided by Bjorn in his wild-card picks, announced on Sept. 5.
Olesen holds the advantage heading to the last stop on the long road to Ryder Cup qualification. The Danish player occupies the final automatic spot on Europe's World Points list and his chances have been further boosted by Ian Poulter, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Paul Casey — his three closest challengers — opting not to play in Denmark but instead in the Dell-Technologies Championship, the second event in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs.
Points from that event will not count for the Ryder Cup standings.
Fitzpatrick is next down the list and he will jump ahead of Olesen with a win in Denmark, provided Olesen finishes outside the top seven. Pepperell needs a win and for Olesen to finish outside the top 12.
Olesen and Pepperell would be Ryder Cup rookies. Fitzpatrick made his debut in Europe's loss to the Americans at Hazeltine in 2016.
Bjorn and two of his assistants, Robert Karlsson and Lee Westwood, are playing in Denmark but part of their remit this week will be checking on the form of potential wild-card picks. Among the contenders is Thomas Pieters, whose tie for ninth at the Czech Masters ended his ambitions of an automatic qualifying place.
Pieters was one of Europe's best players at Hazeltine, winning four points in five matches in his first appearance in the Ryder Cup.
With Hatton, Fleetwood, Rahm and Noren heading to Paris as rookies, Bjorn might regard experience as more important in his captain's picks. That puts more pressure on Olesen and Pepperell to secure an automatic route into the team, instead of relying on a favor from Bjorn.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80