European Ryder Cup Vice-Captain Paul McGinley believes that ongoing concerns over the fitness of Lee Westwood have boosted America's hopes of retaining the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor next month.
Westwood hasn’t played since being forced to pull out of last month's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and miss the PGA Championship with a calf injury. And McGinley admits that Colin Montgomerie's team might not know whether Westwood is fit enough to compete until the competition gets under way.
"A couple of months ago, we were quite clear favorites, but in the last two months things have changed. We have been hurt by Lee Westwood's injury. There's no doubt about that,” McGinley said in The Guardian. “It's going to be an unknown factor until Lee turns up that week and we see how he feels, having not competed since the Open. That's a disappointment for Europe.
"I also think the American team has got a lot stronger over the last two months and we've had some issues -- none more so than Lee having been injured and not having played,” he added. “He's our No. 1 player so I think it's going to be a very close Ryder Cup."
Should Westwood not be fit enough to take part in his seventh Ryder Cup, Paul Casey and Justin Rose would be in contention to take his place.
Those two, particularly Casey, were felt by many to be unfortunate to miss out on selection given their good form on the PGA Tour, but McGinley believes that selection for the European team should be decided by performances on the European Tour.
"My views are very strong," he said. "We're a European team. We're a European Tour. And even though a lot of players are playing in America we have to draw the line. We need to finish the qualification for a European team on European soil.
"It would be very strange if we were waiting on what happens on the PGA Tour in order to decide the European team. That just doesn't add up,” he explained. "We can stand on our own two feet. We're a strong enough tour with very good tournaments. We have a great finishing campaign every two years for the Ryder Cup and there is where we always need to finish -- on our terms and not the Americans' terms."