After Bubba Watson captured the Masters leading up to our first look at the Ryder Cup, Americans hoisted the trophy in four of the next five events. That adds up to plenty of movement for the U.S. squad in our second look at how the Ryder Cup teams are taking shape.
The only international winner was Carl Pettersson at the RBC Heritage, and he is only eligible for the European Ryder Cup team as a captain’s pick, as he is not a member of the European Tour despite his Swedish descent.
Jason Dufner ramped up the American winning streak in New Orleans with his bayou breakthrough. Ben Curtis then jumped out of Past Champion status to nab the Valero Texas Open. A week later, Rickie Fowler followed in Dufner’s footsteps by besting Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points in a playoff to steal the trophy at the Wells Fargo for his first victory on the PGA TOUR. Matt Kuchar extended the run with his first victory since 2010 at THE PLAYERS.
Not so ironically, three of those four vaulted into the top eight of the current U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with Curtis the lone outlier in 12th.
Here is a quick refresher on the U.S. Ryder Cup selection process:
The team is made up of 12 competitors. The top eight in a special points system running through Aug. 12 automatically qualify 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.
With THE PLAYERS in the books, let's take a look at how Team USA is taking shape.
The Eight Automatics
1. Bubba Watson (4,798.395) – Even with Bubba backing out of some premier events to spend more time with his growing family, he’s still safely in first place. He added just over 80 points in New Orleans, but he’s on the team regardless of what he does the rest of the way.
2. Phil Mickelson (3,860.297) – Like Watson, Mickelson held his position while managing to add to his point total. He’s had roughly a 114-point boost since the Masters after notching a T26 at the Wells Fargo and a T25 at THE PLAYERS.
3. Matt Kuchar (3,576.93) – He was on the list of players that needed to stay cozy with Captain Love, but his win at THE PLAYERS, in addition to a T13 at the Valero Texas Open and a T44 at the RBC Heritage, gave him a major boost. By more than doubling his point total, he climbed from 12th to third since we last checked in. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t don the red, white and blue at Medinah.
4. Hunter Mahan (3,347.102) – After the Masters, he surrendered third place in the rankings to Kuchar. Mahan missed the cut at THE PLAYERS and finished T53 at the Wells Fargo the week before. Even with taking some time off and returning with a couple of less than stellar efforts, he's still in solid shape. As an early favorite for upcoming events like the U.S. Open, he’ll likely keep adding to the total and make the team on merit.
5. Keegan Bradley (3,158.327) – Like Mahan, Bradley has cooled a bit over the past few weeks and also dropped a spot. After the Masters, he missed his first two cuts of the year in New Orleans and at the Wells Fargo. He improved marginally at THE PLAYERS, posting a T35. Even though he’s still in nice shape, he can’t afford to be complacent, as the likes of Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler and others are charging hard behind him.
6. Jason Dufner (2,874.372) – He threw his name in the hat with his victory at New Orleans in addition to a T24 at the RBC Heritage and a T68 at THE PLAYERS. He's moved up from the 13th spot since the Masters to where he currently resides. He’s still in that range where he needs to add a few more top 10s to lock up a spot, and he can’t afford a letdown.
7. Rickie Fowler (2,865.459) – He's made a big move since the Masters. When he left Augusta National, he was 22nd in the standings, but a stretch that included a T10 at New Orleans, a win at the Wells Fargo and a T2 at THE PLAYERS has him sitting pretty and looking like a world-beater. He’s also a big reason why guys like Bradley and Dufner need to quickly start cashing a few more big checks to hold the line.
8. Steve Stricker (2,291.425) – After Fowler, there’s a relatively big drop off to Stricker. Since the Masters, he finished sixth in New Orleans and missed the cut at THE PLAYERS in what continues to feel like a limited schedule.
Ben Curtis (2,125.605) has been on a tear. When we left Augusta National, he was outside the top 100, but now finds himself 12th. He won the Valero Texas Open, finished T13 in New Orleans, T5 at the Wells Fargo and stole a T2 at THE PLAYERS. If he keeps this pace up, he could make his second Ryder Cup team.
Zach Johnson (2,083.626) wiggled from 25th to 13th after finishing second at the RBC Heritage and T2 at THE PLAYERS. He also made the cut at the Wells Fargo (T69).
Tiger Woods (2,210.717) – He still falls in line at ninth, but anyone who has watched golf the last few weeks has seen the struggles.
Bill Haas (2,172.618) – He's in 10th, but recent form has not been much to write home about. After missing the cut in what were basically home games in Hilton Head and Charlotte, he rebounded with a T25 at THE PLAYERS.
Brandt Snedeker (2,145.857) – Sneds has played a light schedule since the Masters, with a T17 at the RBC Heritage and a missed cut at THE PLAYERS.
Keep an eye on
Jim Furyk – When we last checked in on him, he was in 19th place. He remains in 19th with 1,559.695, but it took a T8 at the RBC Heritage, a T26 at the Wells Fargo and a T25 at THE PLAYERS to maintain that position.
Webb Simpson – Much like Furyk, Simpson was 20th after the Masters and still sits in 20th (1,541.465) after a T52 at the RBC Heritage, a T13 in New Orleans, a fourth at the Wells Fargo and a MC at THE PLAYERS.
John Huh – I keep waiting for him to realize that he’s a rookie and suffer a setback, but he keeps adding to the point total. After a run that included a T2 at the Valero Texas Open and a T23 at THE PLAYERS, he held firm in 23rd with 1,497.58 points.
If the four captain’s picks were announced today they would likely be:
Tiger Woods – He’ll be controversial to some, but he’s the highest in the world rankings of the potential captain’s picks, and Love can’t pass on him for numerous reasons.
Ben Curtis – We mentioned him above as a big riser, but the question will be if he can keep up the pace through the dog days of summer. He could be like a Johnson Wagner, Mark Wilson or Kyle Stanley, who each had hot months but faded. If the picks were made today he would be tough to pass on, as he might be the hottest American golfer.
Zach Johnson – Zach’s been on fire and steadily rising. DLIII wouldn’t mind having another neighbor and member of the Sea Island mafia on his team, and his form makes him a solid candidate.
Webb Simpson – The last one came down to Simpson and Furyk. Ultimately, they will likely both find a way to sneak on the team, but that means one of the current eight automatics or other captain’s selections will not.
To summarize, the American team is shaping up to be a strong foe for the Europeans with a number of wins and high finishes stacked between the Masters and THE PLAYERS. The upcoming majors will have an impact on the team, and expect plenty of pressure on guys like Dufner, Bradley, Fowler and Stricker to hold onto their automatic spots. Simpson, Woods, Johnson and Curtis are certainly gunning for them.
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 concludes August 26th, 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 2,584,843.51 points. Peter Hanson (1,633,004.93), Martin Kaymer (1,587,688.41), Justin Rose (1,483,613.23) and Paul Lawrie (1,387,723.60) round out the top five.
The next five will be determined from those not already eligible on the World Ryder Cup Points List. Luke Donald leads off that list with 252.10 points. He's followed by Lee Westwood (235.69), Graeme McDowell (149.09), Sergio Garcia (131.19) and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (108.12).
Unlike the fluid U.S. squad, the European team was left completely unchanged over the course of the last month.
Check back the week after the U.S. Open, which just happens to be the next double-point event for the Yanks, to see if the landscape is shifting or steady.