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Chris Wood guest column: Race for a place is starting right now

Taste for it: Chris Wood, left, celebrates a win for GB&I with Rory McIlroy and Ross Fisher, but is targeting a more high-profile victory at Hazeltine in 2016 (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Taste for it: Chris Wood, left, celebrates a win for GB&I with Rory McIlroy and Ross Fisher, but is targeting a more high-profile victory at Hazeltine in 2016 (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

This week’s M2M Russian Open, with its relatively small one million prize fund, could not be counted as one of the main events on the Race to Dubai schedule. Yet there will be an extra buzz in the players’ thoughts as they walk the fairways of the Solkovo Golf Club.

For tomorrow sees the start of the year-long qualifying process to earn one of the eight automatic places in Europe’s Ryder Cup team to take on the Americans at Hazeltine.

And, for one week at least, the winner in Moscow will sit at the top of the table which provides four of those places on the basis of money earned in European Tour events.

That will probably not count for             anything next August when the two qualifying tables for money and world ranking points close for business at the Made in Denmark tournament, but there’s nothing wrong in getting off to a flying start.

And it looks like there could be an extra bonus. As yet no details have been released about the qualifying process to make the European team that will take on Asia in the Eurasia Cup in January.

However, I would think an element of it may be drawn from the Ryder Cup tables, so money won now could help to give Hazeltine candidates an early chance to impress Darren Clarke.

I am not starting my Ryder Cup campaign in Moscow, but instead will head to next week’s KLM Open in the Dutch coastal town of Zandvoort with a similar buzz in my mind ahead of launching my Ryder Cup campaign on a course that I really like.

Kennemer is the type of traditional links layout that I wish we played more often on the tour. It is not long by modern standards, but still very tricky and in one way unique.

Not all the bunkers that have to be avoided are filled with sand. Others alongside some fairways are part of the defensive wall built by the Germans during World War II to prevent allied powers sending a force to Holland.

However, I am not going to let that interesting scenery distract me from my own target of getting off to a fast Ryder Cup start.

In my career to-date I haven’t finished inside the top 20 of any of the Ryder Cup tables and missing out on playing against the Americans has been a big let-down, because it is such a huge event on the golfing calendar.

As a youngster I played a lot of competitive football and playing professional golf I really miss the team side of sport, such as the banter you have with friends in the dressing room.

I have played for GB & I against Europe in two Seve Trophies, but they were never on the same scale as the Ryder Cup.

And it is not just the camaraderie of being in a team that I know I would enjoy. I like the matchplay format where any player can beat another on their day, which does not feature that often on Tour schedules.

A couple of years back I did get as far as the quarter-finals of the World Matchplay – which Graeme McDowell won at Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria – and I have qualified to play in two WGC Accenture Matchplays in America, sadly losing to Lee Westwood and Bubba Watson, both by a 2 & 1 margin in the first round. But both of the games could have gone the other way with a bit of luck on my side.

And I think the fascinating uncertainty of the Ryder Cup was brilliantly summed up by a story David Howell told me of the Saturday evening at the last Ryder Cup, when he and Nick Dougherty were both part of the Sky commentary team.

When the draw for the Sunday singles came through to the studio they sat down and went through each match in turn, trying to predict the winners, and at one stage they had Europe winning ten matches to America’s two.

Of course it never worked out that way, but that is the great beauty of matchplay golf – anything can happen on the day – and that’s why I want to be a part of it in Hazeltine next year.

That one goal is going to be on my mind for the next 12 months. And over the next few weeks I think all of my fellow Tour pros will be feeling the same at European Tour events.

But by next August, when some of our American-based European stars are struggling to qualify for Darren’s team on the basis of ranking points earned on the US Tour and decide to return to Europe looking to win some euros, the field at our tournaments here will be even stronger.

And that will surely only add to the level of excitement.

*This article was originally published in TGP on 2 September 2015.

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