Harrington to run rule over Ryder Cup prospect Hovland at Wentworth

Europe captain paired with 22-year-old for opening two rounds of the BMW PGA Championship

Wentworth - Harrington & Hovland
Viktor Hovland is in contention for the Europe team for the Ryder Cup (Steve Helber/AP)

Europe captain Padraig Harrington will run the rule over Ryder Cup prospect Viktor Hovland in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Harrington named Sweden’s Robert Karlsson as his first vice-captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on Wednesday, partly as a “bridge” to young Scandinavian players.

However, the three-time major winner has jumped at the opportunity to get a close-up look at Hovland by asking to be paired with the 22-year-old Norwegian for the opening two rounds of the first qualifying event.

“He’s made himself eligible for the team,” Harrington said. “He’s joined (the European Tour) as an affiliate member at the moment and that’s his intention for next year at a minimum.

Wentworth - Harrington & Hovland
Padraig Harrington believes Viktor Hovland could make the Europe team for the Ryder Cup (Steve Helber/AP)

“He’s made himself eligible to collect both points this week and world ranking points all the way through so we won’t have a situation of three months down the line going, ‘oh, we wish we could go back’. He’s been well advised.”

Hovland only turned professional in June after finishing 12th in the US Open at Pebble Beach, where he impressed Rory McIlroy during a practice round.

In August Hovland finished tied for second in the Albertsons Boise Open, part of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, to secure his PGA Tour card for the season and on Sunday tied the PGA Tour record with his 17th consecutive round in the 60s.

“He really does look like a fine player,” Harrington added. “His play has been phenomenal. It looks like he feels like he belongs, which is the biggest key to a young rookie coming out on Tour.

“If they look like they are caught in the headlights they could disappear quickly, where Victor really does look like he’s here to play golf. I’m looking forward to playing with him.”

Wentworth - Harrington & Hovland
Rory Sabbatini is eligible for the European Ryder Cup team after taking Slovakian citizenship (Niall Carson/PA)

Hovland is one of around 20 players Harrington wants to observe in person, a number which includes South Africa-born Rory Sabbatini – who has taken Slovakian citizenship – and even an unnamed amateur.

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The qualifying period starts with this week’s event at Wentworth and ends with the same event next year and Harrington would expect any wild card hopefuls to make the trip.

“I’m not being absolutely strict on saying if you didn’t play here next year you’re not going to get a pick or anything like that, but I’m saying you can prove yourself a lot,” Harrington said.

“The schedule I think suits me in picking my team. I fully hope I’m going to end up with the strongest team possible.”

Despite top-15 finishes in his last two events, Harrington is under no illusions that he will qualify for the team himself and would not contemplate picking himself, as Presidents Cup captain Tiger Woods is doing.

Wentworth - Harrington & Hovland
Padraig Harrington has heaped praise on Thomas Bjorn for his Ryder Cup captaincy (David Davies/PA)

“To be a playing captain at the Ryder Cup is an impossibility,” he added. “What goes on behind the scenes for a captain is startling. There’s no physical, mental way that you could possibly do both unless you were guaranteed a winning team and you could swan around as the captain.

Karlsson and Harrington were vice-captains under Thomas Bjorn when Europe regained the trophy at Le Golf National in Paris last year and Harrington heaped praise on the 50-year-old Swede.

“Anybody involved in 2018 would have seen this as a no-brainer pick,” he said. “He’s very logical, very straight, he doesn’t let the emotions get involved. He’s a brilliant vice-captain.

“There will be other vice-captains but you have to wait for other guys who could make the team. I need a vice-captain now. He’s an icon for the northern Europeans and I need access to those guys.”

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