Alex Noren breaks the course record at Carnoustie -- somewhere, Darren Clarke sighs
Hazeltine produced a memorable Ryder Cup, but it could have been more competitive if Europe had actually brought its strongest squad. For a variety of reasons -- ranging from a dumb rule to a preventable oversight -- three Europeans in the top 30 of the Official World Golf Ranking didn't make the trip to Chaska. And one of those players continues to scorch the week after Europe's three-event winning streak was snapped by Team USA.
On Thursday, Alex Noren opened with a course-record 64 at Carnoustie. Noren, who is up to No. 29 in the world, has a one-shot lead after Day 1 of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and the Swede is looking for his third European Tour title in the past three months.
Noren might have made Team Europe if Darren Clarke had made a late captain's pick like Davis Love III did with Ryan Moore, who wound up earning the Cup-clinching point at Hazeltine. After winning the Scottish Open in July, Noren won the European Masters in September, just days after Clarke, who only had three captain's picks, selected Thomas Pieters, Lee Westwood, and Martin Kaymer. Pieters, of course, was the team's breakout star, but Westwood and Kaymer struggled in Europe's 17-11 loss.
And Noren wasn't even the best European not at Hazeltine. Or even the second best. Paul Casey (No. 12) wasn't eligible for the team because he wasn't a member of the European Tour. And Russell Knox (No. 19) was simply overlooked, in part, because so many Ryder Cup rookies had already qualified on points.
Sure, it's easy to second guess Clarke or the way the qualifying points system works after a loss, but it's also easy to see Europe would have been in better position to win if Clarke had had Casey, Knox and Noren at his disposal. The Europeans have enjoyed mocking the American Ryder Cup Task Force the past couple years, but it had something to do with the number and timing of Love's picks. Perhaps, whoever the next European captain is won't be at the same disadvantage.