Ryan O'Sullivan

Road to the Ryder Cup

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Ryder Cup Update, Part 4

Friday, July 27, 2012

With three weeks remaining before the eight automatic berths for the United States Ryder Cup team are locked up, it is time to review how the squads are coming together in the 11th hour.


Since last we checked in, the jostling for inclusion into the all-important top eight on the U.S. side has calmed as each of the eight automatics following the U.S. Open are still holding on to their status at present. There was some movement within that group. We will take a look at how that happened as well as the separation between the eighth and ninth spots.


The biggest reason for the lack of volatility this period is a result of the streak of nine tournament wins from the Yanks coming to an end at the hands of Marc Leishman at the Travelers Championship. The following week, Tiger Woods, who was already in the safety zone, claimed the AT&T National as his third conquest of the season. Ted Potter Jr. picked off The Greenbrier Classic in a playoff over Troy Kelly, but he was so far down the list that it hardly registered for the purposes of the Ryder Cup team. Potter, Jr. would essentially need to win twice in the next two weeks to have any shot of earning an automatic spot.


Zach Johnson winning a playoff over Troy Matteson took him off the bubble and moved Hunter Mahan into the hot seat, and we all remember Ernie Els hoisting the Claret Jug. Scott Stallings’ win at the True South Classic, while big for him, is even less of a factor than Potter’s breakthrough, as it was a small purse and a half-point event.


As a quick refresher, here are the parameters for punching a ticket to Medinah:


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.


As we have mentioned in prior updates, in 2010 Matt Kuchar was the last of the eight automatic qualifiers with 3,415.853 points. Currently, eighth place has already amassed 4,022.923 points and is occupied by Hunter Mahan. There is a bit of a gap between eighth and ninth where Keegan Bradley sits with 3,382.206, but it is certainly not an insurmountable one.


Eight automatics entering the RBC Canadian Open


1. Tiger Woods (5,598.863) -- Finds himself in the familiar spot of days gone by, leading the Ryder Cup points race. He was seventh last we checked in, but a win at the AT&T National and a T3 at the British Open removed any doubt that DL3 would have to burn a captain’s pick on him. Woods' missed cut at The Greenbrier Classic should not serve as any sort of yellow flag, but it would be nice if he could be confident with something more than an iron off the tee when he returns to the venue of his 1999 PGA Championship triumph over Sergio Garcia for the Ryder Cup.


2. Bubba Watson (5,446.483) -- Leapfrogged Jason Dufner to remain in second. A T2 at the Travelers coupled with a T23 at the British Open threw more points into an already bountiful war chest. Captain Love has to be happy to see Watson back on his game after a post-Masters hangover.


3. Jason Dufner (5,383.502) -- Didn’t slide far down the list and still has Woods and Bubba in his crosshairs with each expected to play the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship. Already secure with his bevy of points, Dufner sprinkled a few more in with a T31 at the British Open after taking an extended break following the U.S. Open.


4. Webb Simpson (4,635.500) -- Dropped one rung on the ladder, but still sits pretty for a trip to Medinah. He added a T29 at the Travelers and a T7 at The Greenbrier Classic to avoid any stress down the stretch. It was well-documented that he skipped the double-point British Open due to the impending birth of his second child.


5. Zach Johnson (4,402.544) -- Captured the John Deere Classic in a two-hole playoff over Troy Matteson and added a T9 at the British Open and a T64 at the Travelers to move himself off the bubble. He’s missed just one cut all year and adding a few extra dollars down the stretch wouldn’t hurt anything. It would be a long shot, but there are scenarios where he could still fall out of the top eight.


6. Matt Kuchar (4,292.112) -- Has improved his point total, but dropped from fifth due in large part to the rise of Woods and Johnson via their wins. You may remember in our last update we quipped that if he kept posting top-30 finishes the rest of the way he should be good to go. He did better than that, with a T8 at the Travelers and a T9 at the British Open. He may need to go back to the well another time or two, but he’s the first man on this list in the field at the RBC Canadian Open where an opening 3-under-par 67 has him in contention once again. Barring the unforeseen, he is expected to tee it up at Firestone and the PGA Championship. Much like Woods and Johnson did the last few weeks, he could put an end to any doubts with a big week at the RBC Canadian Open.


7. Phil Mickelson (4,107.108) -- Took a page out of Bubba Watson’s post-Masters playbook and did not make a cut, thus not recording a point since last we checked in. Watson bounced back as noted above, and now the other lefty needs to do the same over the next three weeks to maintain his spot. Mickelson would be wise not to take his position lightly; as others below him could take advantage of the double-point PGA Championship should he falter. Consider that he was in fourth place in our last update.


8. Hunter Mahan (4,022.923) -- Recorded a T11 at the Travelers and a T8 at AT&T National, as well as a T19 at the British Open but dropped from sixth in the standings. This was probably not lost on him, as he joins Kuchar in the field at the RBC Canadian Open and will be a favorite at Firestone next week. If Mahan can’t remove himself from the bubble headed into the PGA Championship, he will have to keep one eye in the mirror as he circles Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.


The next four in points


9. Keegan Bradley (3,382.206) -- Held on to ninth by making three cuts since the U.S. Open but did not crack the top 25 in any of those events. You get the feeling he needs to do something fairly big in the next few weeks or he’s going to find himself in a similar situation to last year, where he watched the President’s Cup from home.


10. Rickie Fowler (3,174.590) -- Held on to 10th but didn’t do much in terms of points. His only event was the British Open, and he finished T31 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Should he fall short, he could look back and regret several of his off weeks.


11. Brandt Snedeker (3,099.707) -- Jumped from 15th since we last checked in due in large part to his tie for third at the British Open. He is competing in the RBC Canadian Open this week and is expected to tee it up in the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship to maximize his chances of cracking the top eight.


12. Dustin Johnson (2,920.770) -- Dropped a spot even though he secured a couple of paydays at AT&T National (T44) and Greenbrier (T33) before stepping it up at Royal Lytham & St. Annes with a T9. Expect him to be among the contenders at both Firestone and the PGA Championship, which happens to be contested in his home state of South Carolina.


Captain's pick projections


While I’d expect it is generally good to be Davis Love III, when it comes to selecting the right four men to fill out his roster may cause an ulcer due to the strength of his options. A legitimate case can be made for eight of the players falling between eighth and 20th on the list, and that doesn’t even count the possibility that someone not on the radar could walk away with the Wanamaker Trophy and throw a major wrench in the process.


Should the captain’s picks be announced today, the four would be:


Dustin Johnson – He’s loaded with talent and plays well in the majors for the most part. His skill set would give DL3 plenty of options in various formats at Medinah.


Rickie Fowler – His attitude, charisma and flair are made for the Ryder Cup. It was a questionable strategy from a Ryder Cup points perspective to sit out the tournaments between the two Opens, but he will likely make things easy on Captain Love by at least finishing inside the top 12. He already has the win at Quail Hollow to set himself apart from some of the others in need of a nod.


Steve Stricker – Currently 13th in points (2,898.069), he’s on shaky ground but probably in today. His current form boasts top-25 finishes in each of his last four starts including a T15 at the U.S. Open, a T22 at Greenbrier, a T5 at the John Deere Classic and a T23 at the British Open. He’s a solid option in all Ryder Cup formats, and his form has been steady enough over the last month. Making the cut in each of the first three majors doesn’t hurt.


Jim Furyk – There are several ways to go with the last pick, but none of what are five legitimate choices have separated themselves from the pack. Under that circumstance, the final pick defaults back to the veteran. He will be good in the team room and gives the captain and his assistants plenty of flexibility in pairings and formats. Furyk could do himself a favor and grab a couple of top 10s. The RBC Canadian Open is the perfect opportunity, as he won at this week’s venue (Hamilton Golf & Country Club) when it last hosted in 2006. But an opening round 70 leaves him in a bit of a hole.


Potential spoilers


The next four on the outside looking in that Captain Love just can’t stop thinking about are:


Brandt Snedeker – If he proves his T3 at the British Open was not a fluke in the next few weeks, the smooth putter may be too much to pass up.


Keegan Bradley – He’s shown signs of a return to form of late, and if he could post a top five to show he’s all the way back in the next few weeks, that could be very bad for Furyk.


Bill Haas – Might need a win or at least a couple of top 10s to become a legitimate option. That’s exactly what he did to earn a pick from Fred Couples for the President’s Cup last year when he claimed the Tour Championship, and with it the FedExCup crown.


Kyle Stanley – After a poor spring and early summer, the Clemson product has quietly put together some nice tournaments of late. A final-round 76 hurt him at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, but he wasn’t far from contending. Like Haas, it would take some high-profile work to supplant a current projected captain’s pick, but his length and ball-striking could be a huge factor at Firestone next week and draw a few more eyes his way.


The U.S. team continues to look like the favorite headed to Medinah. Americans boast five of the top nine and 10 of the top 17 players in the Official World Golf Ranking.


The Euros


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 26, the automatic spots will be locked in. At that point in time, Captain Jose Maria Olazábal will have the final say in the last two spots.


The current European Ryder Cup Points List is as follows:


1. Rory McIlroy; 2,635,952.0

2. Graeme McDowell; 2,197,505.29

3. Justin Rose; 2,062,615.50

4. Paul Lawrie; 2,033.778.14

5. Francesco Molinari; 2,001,002.18


The next five will be determined from those not already eligible on the World Ryder Cup Points List:


1. Luke Donald; 349.76

2. Lee Westwood; 280.27

3. Peter Hanson; 173.57

4. Martin Kaymer; 168.99

5. Sergio Garcia; 155.58


The only movement on the European side since our last update was Nicolas Colsaerts dropping out in favor of Francesco Molinari.


We will next check back after the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course when the eight U.S. automatics will have revealed themselves.


Ryan O’Sullivan joined Rotoworld in 2012. The Clemson grad blogs as The Golf Aficionado and can be found on Twitter @ryangolfblogger.
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