Colin Montgomerie believes Sergio Garcia could well lose his record as the Ryder Cup's youngest-ever player next September.
With qualifying having started at the Omega European Masters, last year's winning captain tips 18-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero to be among the new faces on Jose Maria Olazabal's team in Chicago.
2011 OMEGA EUROPEAN MASTERS
The Omega European Masters is the first event in which players can earn points toward making the 2012 European Ryder Cup team.
"I'd expect him to make it," said Montgomerie of a player who since the start of last season has moved up from 570th in the world to 30th.
Garcia was 19 years and eight months old when his Ryder Cup debut came in Boston in 1999. Manassero would be 19 years and five months if he earns a place.
"I've thought about it, obviously," said Manassero, the youngest-ever British Amateur champion and youngest-ever European Tour winner. "I'm seeing improvements in my game, I'm hitting the ball further and I will try and play well."
There has never been a Ryder Cup team, European or American, that stayed together from one match to the next.
In addition to those who might force their way back in -- Garcia, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Robert Karlsson and British Open champion Darren Clarke fit into that category -- Montgomerie has no trouble identifying four possible first-timers.
He describes Denmark’s Anders Hansen, third in the PGA Championship last month, as "the most improved golfer in Europe this year" and will be surprised if long-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros and his fellow Scot Martin Laird are not contending as well.
The big problem for the U.S.-based Laird is that he won’t be taking up European Tour membership again until January and so is giving everyone else a four-month start in the points race.
There are also wild cards, of course, but on taking over in charge Olazabal asked for and was given only two of those, one fewer than Montgomerie.
If there are going to be changes, of course, there are going to be players who don’t retain their spots.
Padraig Harrington, a controversial captain's pick for Celtic Manor given that Montgomerie left out world No. 9 Casey and two-time PGA Tour winner Rose, has since fallen from 18th in the rankings to 71st.
Ross Fisher has dropped from 26th to 70th and Edoardo Molinari from 15th to 52nd, while Miguel Angel Jimenez will be 48 next January and Peter Hanson has not won an event since last year's match.
Olazabal will be hoping that German Martin Kaymer regains the form that took him to world No. 1 in February and that Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter become inspired again after quiet summers, but he is hardly short of star quality.
It is a measure of the current strength of European golf that if Olazabal was going straight down the rankings for his dozen, then Manassero would be the last man in at 30th. That team would be, in order, Donald, Westwood, Kaymer, McIlroy, McDowell, Poulter, Casey, Karlsson, Francesco Molinari, Hansen, Laird and Manassero.
It would therefore consist of seven survivors of Celtic Manor, two previous cup players (Casey and Karlsson) and three debutants (Hansen, Laird and Manassero). Olazabal would have no complaints there, but it never works out like that.
Last time there were six rookies, in 2008 four, in 2006 two, in 2004 five.