It’s been a volatile month in the Ryder Cup standings with the Americans capturing the title in each of the five events since our last update.
Jason Dufner kept his magical year going strong with a win at the HP Byron Nelson. Zach Johnson followed that up with his second win at Colonial in the last three years. Not to be outdone, Tiger Woods joined Dufner and Hunter Mahan as the third two-time winner on TOUR when he captured the Memorial for the fifth time.
In just his second week back from an injury, Dustin Johnson entered the fray with a win in his first trip to the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Last and hardly least, Webb Simpson claimed the biggest prize of all when he outlasted the field at Olympic Club to win his first major championship at the U.S. Open. From a Ryder Cup standpoint, the win was gold for Simpson because it was a double-point event.
Following Bubba Watson’s win at the Masters, there was very little separation top to bottom in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings. Now that Yanks have hoisted the trophy in nine of the last 10 events, there are some clearly defined tiers taking shape.
Before we go any further, let’s review the parameters for earning a spot on the team. It consists of 12 competitors. The top eight in a special points system running through Aug. 12 automatically qualify. 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 was the last of the eight automatic qualifiers with 3,415.853 points. With nine weeks of action remaining before the automatics are decided, it’s unlikely that total would crack the top 10 for the 2012 cycle; much less the top eight. The way things are taking shape, it looks like it will take around 4,000 points to avoid sweating out the captain’s picks.
Eight automatics following the U.S. Open
1. Jason Dufner (5,289.254) – We have a new number one, as Dufner unseats Bubba Watson following his win at the Byron Nelson, solo second at Colonial and a T4 at the U.S. Open. If he wanted, Dufner could find a rocking chair in Auburn, Alabama, sit out the rest of the summer and easily be on the U.S. squad. It’s essentially what Bubba Watson has done the last 10 weeks.
2. Bubba Watson (4,798.395) – If his total looks eerily similar to the last time we checked in, that’s because it is. Watson has taken some highly publicized time off to be with his growing family. He returned to action at the Memorial and played again at the U.S. Open, promptly missing the cut in each. It ultimately won’t have any impact on his Ryder Cup prospects, as there isn’t enough time left or players within striking distance to bump him out of the top eight.
3. Webb Simpson (4,421.465) – The big mover of this cycle is Simpson, who was in 20th place following THE PLAYERS but now finds himself as a virtual lock to be on the team at Medinah. He had slipped all the way to 25th coming into the U.S. Open, but took full advantage of the double-point event contested at Olympic Club.
4. Phil Mickelson (4,107.408) – Lefty made some modest improvements in his point total since THE PLAYERS but did drop two spots in the rankings. His points came by virtue of a T7 at the HP Byron Nelson and a T65 at the U.S. Open. As the final member of the 4,000 club, he is in no real danger of missing out on yet another Ryder Cup berth.
5. Matt Kuchar (3,869.426) – It would take the perfect storm for Kuchar to fail to qualify on merit. He would have to basically be shut out the rest of the way, and all of the guys behind him would have to have strong finishes over the next nine weeks for him to require the help of Captain Love. Since his win at THE PLAYERS, Kuchar posted a T15 at the Byron Nelson, a T25 at Colonial and a T27 at the U.S. Open. If he keeps throwing up top-30 finishes the rest of the way, he’ll be good to go.
6. Hunter Mahan (3,537.370) – Here’s where things start to get a little dicey. If some guys inside the current top 20 but outside of the top eight find the winner’s circle over the next nine weeks, Mahan’s a guy that needs to run into some top 10s or one really high finish to secure his position. He could put all that to rest at the Travelers Championship this week where he is a past champion and two-time runner up. He needs to get it in gear soon because his lone top-35 finish since the Masters is a T19 at the Memorial.
7. Tiger Woods (3,499.413) – Woods jumped into the top eight by virtue of his win at Memorial. While he is not a lock mathematically, it’s impossible to imagine him not finding his way on the team one way or another with two wins already on the 2012 résumé. With events remaining at courses where his history is solid such as Congressional and Firestone, it is likely he will find enough points without having to lean on DL3.
8. Zach Johnson (3,313.258) – While he's had a nice run since THE PLAYERS to jump from 13th to eighth, he’s still not out of the woods by any stretch. His win at Colonial certainly boosted his chances, but he’s since cooled off a bit missing the cut at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and finishing T41 at the U.S. Open. With the five names immediately behind him being Keegan Bradley (3,247.543), Rickie Fowler (3,174.590), Dustin Johnson (2,618.942), Steve Stricker (2,544.621) and Jim Furyk (2,540.443), ZJ cannot afford to let up.
Webb Simpson is the obvious one. His win at the U.S. Open jumped him 22 spots from the week before and locked up his roster spot.
Tiger Woods had fallen to ninth following THE PLAYERS, and while he only improved two spots it took 1,288.696 points to get him there.
Currently 11th, Dustin Johnson jumped back on the grid with his victory at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Keegan Bradley (9th) appeared to be well on his way to Medinah when we first checked in following the Masters, having not missed a cut all season. Since then he’s missed three cuts, and his best finish is a T24 at the HP Byron Nelson. It’s starting to look like the pressure of making the team may be getting the better of him at this point, but he’s still in ninth place and a few good weeks could jump him right back up into the safe zone. A footnote: he led the points by virtue of his PGA Championship win as the 2012 season kicked off in Hawaii. The person who led the points entering 2010 by virtue of his 2009 U.S. Open win was Lucas Glover, and he failed to make the 2010 Ryder Cup team.
Rickie Fowler (10th) has fallen into a slight slump in his last two events, finishing T52 at the Memorial thanks to a final-round 84 and T41 at the U.S. Open. With the win at Quail Hollow and a T2 at THE PLAYERS, it’s likely that he finds his way on the team as a captain’s pick if he doesn’t make it on merit.
Steve Stricker (12th) is here due in large part to the light schedule he’s kept this season. Since we last checked in, he posted a T50 at Memorial and a T15 at the U.S. Open. He will go for his third consecutive win at the John Deere before we’re back with another update, and he may need a third win there if he hopes to earn his way onto the team.
Keep an eye on
When trying to compile this list, what has become clear is that those not currently inside the top 20 will need a Herculean effort to crack the top eight. Case in point, Bo Van Pelt is in 21st position with 1,910.365. He could win twice and still not crack the current top eight, much less what the top eight will look like following the PGA Championship. With that in mind, the guys to keep an eye on have already been mentioned.
Starting with Mahan in sixth and running through Jim Furyk in 13th, there should be some serious jockeying for position. Remember that at least one of those will not make the team. That means between Mahan, Woods, Zach Johnson, Bradley, Fowler, Dustin Johnson (11th), Stricker and Furyk, someone won’t be going to Medinah. They have nine weeks to sort it out amongst themselves while trying to fend off other would-be predators.
The rest of the top 20 starting with number 14 are Bill Haas (2,187.274), Brandt Snedeker (15th; 2,145.857), Ben Curtis (16th; 2,125.605), Johnson Wagner (17th; 2,099.036), Kevin Na (18th; 2,088.773), Kyle Stanley (19th; 2,050.752) and Mark Wilson (20th; 2,024.547).
Probable captain’s picks if announced today
Rickie Fowler – You can’t leave him out after he broke the seal at Quail Hollow and finished T2 at THE PLAYERS. It would be nice to see him break out of his mini-slump sooner rather than later, but he’d be an easy pick today.
Dustin Johnson – Another easy pick as he’s jumped right back into the deep end with a win at the FedEx St. Jude after a long layoff. Had he not been out for an extended amount of time, he would easily be an automatic.
Jim Furyk – This pick is a little less of a slam dunk, but he edges out Bradley and Stricker due to current form and Ryder Cup experience.
Steve Stricker – He edges out Bradley by a very narrow margin. The tie-breaker was his T15 at the U.S. Open. We’ll know more about Stricker after he plays the John Deere, but with what we have to go on he gets the final nod.
The U.S. team is shaping up to be a powerhouse with a nice mix of young talent and veteran leadership. When the year began, many thought the Europeans to be heavy favorites to retain the Ryder Cup. With the first two majors and THE PLAYERS being won by Americans, it’s hard to think the momentum hasn’t swung the way of the Yanks.
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 Aug. 26, 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 2,586,452.00 followed by Justin Rose (2nd; 1,991,414.30), Paul Lawrie (3rd; 1,965,601.61), Graeme McDowell (4th; 1,884,888.79) and Martin Kaymer (5th; 1,779,612.80).
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 324.26 points, followed by Lee Westwood (276.22), Peter Hanson (168.46), Sergio Garcia (154.24) and Nicolas Colsaerts (126.88).
The Euro team still remains very steady compared to the fluid U.S. squad, with the only change being the addition of Colsaerts at the expense of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
We will check back in on how the teams are coming down the stretch following the British Open.