When Bubba Watson slipped on the green jacket at Augusta National on Sunday evening, many casual golf fans considered the golf season to be officially underway. Others see the first major as the start of golf’s peak season. However you may view the significance of the Masters as it falls on the calendar, the final preeminent event of the 2012 season will take place in Medinah, Illinois on September 28th-30th.
The Ryder Cup is now less than six months away, and the teams are beginning to take shape. This is the first in a series of updates that will inform you on how the teams from the United States and Europe are coming along, with a heavy focus on the Yanks. Expect future updates after THE PLAYERS and the other three majors, as well as some insight on potential captains’ picks after the automatic spots are sealed.
First, a few housekeeping notes as it relates to Team USA. Of the 12 competitors, the top eight in a special points system through Aug. 12 qualify automatically for the squad. This system assigns point value as follows:
- 1 point per thousand dollars earned in the 2011 majors as well as all 2012 PGA TOUR events except for majors and events played opposite majors and World Golf Championships.
- 2 points per thousand dollars earned in the 2012 majors.
- 1/2 point per thousand dollars earned in events played opposite majors and World Golf Championships in 2012.
The other four spots will be filled at captain Davis Love III’s discretion in September.
In 2010, Matt Kuchar earned the final automatic spot with 3,415 points. That’s a decent barometer for where the cut off could be in 2012, but the major championships could have a significant impact on that point total if the Americans perform well in the remaining three majors. Phil Mickelson was the only American to win a major in 2010, and Watson has already matched that in 2012.
To illustrate how important the majors are, any American that won the Masters would have automatically vaulted inside the current top five regardless of where he started the week.
Team USA breakdown:
Go ahead and email your shirt sizes to captain Love:
- Bubba Watson is a lock on the merit of his win at the Masters, with a current point total of 4,717.755 that would have put him second on the 2010 list. He vaulted from 11th to first with the victory.
- Phil Mickelson is the other virtual lock, as his 3,746.624 tally would have landed him fifth in 2010.
Keep your schedule clear for the last week in September:
- Hunter Mahan is having a strong year with two victories and has amassed 3,332.054 points. Barring an injury or total collapse, he’ll be on the team.
- Keegan Bradley (3,111.492 points) started the year in first place on the list by way of his PGA Championship win in 2011 and has continued to steadily add to that total. He shouldn’t have to sweat a captain’s pick like he did in last year’s President’s Cup when Bill Haas snatched it away.
Now things begin to get tight. The next seven players on the list are currently separated by a slim 222 points. Essentially, fifth through 11th place could be separated by a single stroke in a tournament that drops someone from solo second into a three-way tie for second.
It might not be a bad idea to play a few practice rounds or cover a few dinners with DLIII just in case:
- Tiger Woods (2,173.667) currently comes in at fifth on the list. One would find it hard to imagine Love not extending him a captain’s pick if he needs it, but if he stays injury free he probably will not need it.
- Bill Haas (2,106.071) is plugging right along in sixth. There always seem to be two or three guys that could drop out of the top eight and another handful that could jump into the automatics at the PGA Championship. He’ll likely find himself in one of those two groups.
- Steve Stricker (2,060.845) is playing less frequently in 2012 but makes the most of his starts. If he stays the course and remains healthy, he’ll likely find his way on the team one way or another.
- Brandt Snedeker (2,060.357) finds himself in the eighth spot due in large part to his shocking playoff victory over Kyle Stanley in January. It’s ironic that he is now exactly one spot ahead of Stanley in the current standings.
- Kyle Stanley (2,025.088) has slumped lately, making only two of his last four cuts with zero top 50s. He has also yet to lock up a spot in the U.S. and British Opens, but he could still do so several different ways. Stay tuned on that, as double-point events could be crucial.
- Johnson Wagner (2,013.946) is similar to Stanley in that he started off hot but has cooled off. Wagner will have to resist the temptation to put too much pressure on himself to make the team. He is also not currently in the U.S. or British Open field. However, currently 60th in the Official World Golf Ranking, if he can maintain that position on May 21 or June 11, he'll earn an exemption into the U.S. Open. (The top 60 in the OWGR on both dates earn berths.)
- Mark Wilson (1,951.283) has been here before. No, not the Ryder Cup; rather, he's sat high on various point lists like these early in the season only to fall off late. He would likely need to earn an automatic spot to make the team as there are some seasoned Ryder Cup veterans further down the list that will be tough for captain Love to pass.
- Matt Kuchar’s nice run at the Masters moved him into 12th with 1737.617 points.
Next, let's take a moment to look at some of the big names a little further down the list. Coincidentally, if a player isn’t currently in the top 20, even a win in a regular PGA TOUR event wouldn’t jump him into the eighth and final automatic spot.
Better get a move on:
- Dustin Johnson (1,538.402) still has time to make up ground, and his length will be tempting for Love even if DJ doesn’t make it on merit. He currently sits 14th.
- Jim Furyk (1,292.122) is 19th and he's beginning to find his rhythm. After his President’s Cup performance in 2011, he would be tough to leave off even if he doesn’t earn a spot. In recent years, Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink have nabbed captain’s picks for similar reasons.
- Webb Simpson (1,099.619) has cooled off a little in 2012 and ranks 20th, but he has still made each of his eight cuts and has three top 10s.
- Rickie Fowler (908.459) was a captain’s pick by Corey Pavin in 2010. Fowler is currently 22nd. It’s time for him to win, and it’s hard to imagine him garnering a pick this time around if he doesn’t add a "W" to his resume.
- David Toms (850.759) ranks 24th and could stand to do himself a favor and make a move up the list. If he doesn’t, captain’s picks will likely come down to complimenting the eight automatics. He could be snatched up for some veteran leadership if the situation calls.
- Zach Johnson (828.026) has quietly been a Ryder Cup staple of late but is well down the list at 25th.
- Nick Watney (704.800) has tons of talent and potential but needs to crank it up from his 32nd standing. To put it in perspective, he’s currently trailing the likes of PGA TOUR rookie John Huh in the standings.
- Jeff Overton (650.44) had his infamous “Boom, baby!” hole-out at Celtic Manor but will need to roll off some of those shots on the regular TOUR soon to position himself for a Ryder Cup encore.
- Anthony Kim (348.857) is way down this list in 58th position.
The European qualification process is slightly more complicated, as it is pulled from two different lists. This is done to take into account the players that compete almost exclusively on the European Tour versus those that play a blended or PGA TOUR-schedule only.
Essentially, the 10 automatic selections are a combination of the top five from the European Points List and the top five on the World Points List. When the Johnnie Walker Championship scheduled Aug. 23-26 concludes, the automatic spots will be locked in. At that point in time, captain Jose Maria Olazabal will have the final say in the last two spots.
The current European Ryder Cup Points List has Rory McIlroy on top with 2,581,843 points followed by Peter Hanson (1,598,566), Martin Kaymer (1,541,709), Justin Rose (1,483,613) and Paul Lawrie (1,353,284).
The next five will be determined from those not already eligible on the World Ryder Cup Points list. Currently, Luke Donald (213.55), Lee Westwood (203.70), Graeme McDowell (149.09), Sergio Garcia (129.83) and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (108.12) occupy those coveted slots.
Of note, each of the five names mentioned on the European list would have also been chosen on the World list before Fernandez-Castano was tapped. So essentially, if the European team was selected today, it would be the top 10 on the World Ryder Cup Point List even though it isn’t designed to be that simple.
As you sit back and watch various golf tournaments over the coming weeks and months, you never quite know which missed four-foot putt could cost someone the few dollars needed to lock up a Ryder Cup spot weeks down the road.
Check back with us the week following THE PLAYERS to see how the teams have evolved.