Ryan O'Sullivan

Road to the Ryder Cup

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Ryder Cup Update, Part 5

Thursday, August 16, 2012

After a points race that began at the 2011 Masters and concluded at the 2012 PGA Championship, the eight automatic qualifiers for the United States Ryder Cup team have identified themselves.


With a chaotic spring and early summer in the books, the standings remained a little more stable over the closing weeks of the standings with Phil Mickelson earning the final seat at Medinah Country Club’s table.


Since last we checked in, Scott Piercy threw his name in the hat with a win at the RBC Canadian Open and concludes the race in a respectable 19th. J.J. Henry captured the opposite-field Reno-Tahoe Open but is well back in 51st position.


The real mover was Keegan Bradley, who won the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and followed that up with a T3 at the PGA Championship. For his efforts, he moved from the first man out in ninth all the way to fourth. With Rory McIlroy lapping the field at the PGA, the Yank’s roster remained as it was at the start of the week on Kiawah Island.


Before we jump into a capsule of how each player earned his spot, here is a quick refresher on how points were amassed.


- 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 on Sept. 4.


So who are the eight, and how did they get here?


1. Tiger Woods (6,014.184 points) – No man has claimed more PGA TOUR titles in 2012, and the system is set up to reward winning in the same year of the event. Woods claimed the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, the Memorial and his own AT&T National. While he didn’t take full advantage of the double-point majors, it wasn’t required. In all, he’s cashed in 13 of 15 starts with 10 of those in the form of top 25s including six top 10s. This will be his seventh Ryder Cup.


2. Bubba Watson (5,815.054) – His win at the Masters vaulted him into a great position, and after a drought in the late spring and early summer, he picked up right where he left off at Augusta National with a T2 at the Travelers Championship. He followed that up with top 25s in the British Open, WGC-Bridgestone and PGA Championship to seal the deal. The bomber will make his second appearance in the Ryder Cup.


3. Jason Dufner (5,697.302) – He's the first Ryder Cup rookie to appear on the list, and did so with two wins and a bevy of top 10s. After missing the cut in his first event of the year, he cashed in every start since. His wins at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and HP Byron Nelson were the highlights, but his fate was sealed when he chased those victories with a runner-up at Colonial and a T4 at the U.S. Open, respectively.


4. Keegan Bradley (5,551.206) – He's the newbie to the list after topping it when the season started, and he is set to make his first Ryder Cup appearance. You may remember the 2011 PGA Championship winner falling on the wrong side of Fred Couples’ picks in last year’s Presidents Cup when Couples opted for Tiger Woods and FedExCup champ Bill Haas. Bradley left nothing to chance when he slammed the door on the win at the WGC-Bridgestone. Other notable finishes include a playoff loss to Haas at Riviera and a T3 at this year’s PGA Championship.


5. Webb Simpson (4,635.50) – Essentially punched his ticket to Medinah when he won the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. Other highlights were a tie for third at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a solo fourth at the Wells Fargo Championship on his home course, Quail Hollow. While this will be his first Ryder Cup, he was a rookie on the 2011 Presidents Cup.


6. Zach Johnson (4,491.544) – Will make his third appearance in the Ryder Cup after notching two victories during the 2012 campaign. He began to make a strong push when he won at Colonial in May, and he put the exclamation point on his hopes with a win at the John Deere Classic. Adding a T9 the next week at Royal Lytham & St. Annes was icing on the cake.


7. Matt Kuchar (4,448.942) – Had to sweat out a spot on his second Ryder Cup team until the bitter end, but it all worked out for the Georgia Tech product. When he claimed his fourth PGA TOUR victory at THE PLAYERS, it looked like his roster spot was all but a formality. However, with Americans seemingly winning week after week, he couldn’t rest on his laurels and needed top 10s at the Travelers, British Open and WGC-Bridgestone to finally rock his spot to bed.


8. Phil Mickelson (4,233.108) – Lefty cut it close, but in the end did just enough to hold off Hunter Mahan for the final spot. Mickelson's win at Pebble Beach early in the season gave little warning that his automatic status would come down to the final week, but he managed to notch a cut at Kiawah Island when Mahan did not. Mickelson then dodged the final bullet when Bo Van Pelt failed to make a run on the back nine. It will be Mickelson’s record ninth Ryder Cup appearance.


Four spots remain


When Davis Love III stops to take a look at his team, he has to be happy with the mix. He has rookies and veterans, bombers and putters, and every member of his team has won an event in 2012. This allows some creativity in his captain’s picks, but he could just as easily take the next four in line and not hear much of an argument. However, the captain has already tipped his hand that he will look at certain players to fill specific roles on his team.


Reading the tea leaves, it seems likely that DL3 will nab the next three on the list. The final spot will likely be reserved for a hot hand among a small contingent of notables.


Here are the pros and cons of the next seven guys on the list, starting with Hunter Mahan in ninth and running through Dustin Johnson in 15th. I’ll cut the short list off here with the caveat that a high-profile win by someone just outside of these (think a Robert Garrigus or Bill Haas) could shift the landscape.


9. Hunter Mahan (4,082.228) – There is plenty of reason to call his name, beginning with his two wins in 2012. The first was the WGC-Match Play, and the second came at the Shell Houston Open a week before the Masters. Add to that, he’s already played in two Ryder Cups and was a member on the winning team in 2008. If you consider his full body of work, he’s a no-brainer pick. The one mark against him is a slight slump of late in contrast to some other Americans. His last top 10 came at AT&T National. It’s hard for me to see a scenario where DL3 doesn’t peg Mahan into one of the holes left on his roster, and who can blame him?


10. Steve Stricker (4,015.069) – Of all the guys needing a happy phone call from captain Love, Stricker is the safest. He started the year off with a win at Kapalua, has only missed one cut and hasn’t finished outside of the top 25 since the Memorial. He recorded top 10s in three of his last four starts including a runner up at Firestone Country Club and a T7 at the PGA Championship. As a frequent partner of Tiger Woods, barring injury there is zero chance Stricker is left off the squad.


11. Jim Furyk (3,369.616) – While DL3 has hinted a bit to the good for Furyk, I could make a case either way. If you look at his finishes, you see that he came up just short in a playoff at the Transitions, was one shy of Keegan Bradley at the WGC-Bridgestone and posted a T4 at the U.S. Open. One could also point out that he’s been a staple on the Ryder Cup team for the past decade. The counterargument is just as strong. Between the Transitions, U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone, he should have figured out a way to close out two out of three. As to his Ryder Cup history, the U.S. hasn’t exactly been on the winning end of many of his efforts. It feels like Love will take him, but if it were my team he would squarely be on the bubble for one of the two remaining spots. Probably on the inside, with last year’s Presidents Cup performance as the tiebreaker.


12. Rickie Fowler (3,313.338) – When he won at Quail Hollow in May and followed that up with a T2 at THE PLAYERS and a T5 at Colonial, I didn’t think there was any way he wouldn’t find his way onto the team. Since then, he’s played five events and hasn’t cracked the top 30 in any of them. That includes missing the cut at the PGA Championship. Love could save himself some heartache and go chalk with the 12th man on the points list, but the final spot has to be reserved for the hottest remaining player. Fowler needs a top 10 down the stretch, if not better.


13. Brandt Snedeker (3,176.787) – He likely had Medinah on his mind when he penciled in the Wyndham Championship on his schedule, and with good reason. He's not a premier ball-striker, but he is a great putter. My concerns aren’t all that unlike those with Furyk, and they center on the ability to close out a tournament. He backed into his win at Torrey Pines when Kyle Stanley melted. Snedeker also failed to perform on the weekend in the British Open after he looked unstoppable through 36 holes. Even still, he’s put himself in a position to where he is one solid tournament away from earning his first Ryder Cup berth. If one of captain Love’s holes that need to be filled is a putter, Snedeker could be the guy.


14. Bo Van Pelt (3,152.315) - He's made a career of top-10 finishes, and 2012 has brought that to light more than any other season. He has eight of them, with a runner up at AT&T National the highlight. The question is his ability to finish off a tournament. He’s played in 314 events and owns just one win in a now-defunct, opposite-field event in Milwaukee. While many outlets are beginning to bark in favor of BVP, I don’t see how he nudges out anyone with a win on their résumé this year. Consider this: Of his other seven top 10s, the best is just a T7. If he wins a playoff event, then he would be on my team. Anything short of that, and there is no way.


15. Dustin Johnson (3,040.202) – Much like Rickie Fowler at Quail Hollow, when Dustin Johnson won the FedEx St. Jude I saw him as being on the team. Since then, a T9 at the British Open is his best effort with only one other top 25. Still, he has the ability to bring Medinah to its knees, and captain Love could do a lot worse than throwing Johnson and Bubba Watson on the course as a team and watching the fireworks show. The first playoff event is The Barclays, and Bethpage Black is this year’s venue. Length is a must there, and that could be just what the doctor orders for DJ.


Captain's picks projections


Should DL3 care what I think, and why would he, my advice would be to write Mahan's and Stricker’s names down in the ninth and 10th spots. With that decided, sit back and watch the remaining tournaments until decision day and let things play out. If no one separates himself over the next few weeks, then take Furyk and Johnson. However, if Van Pelt, Fowler or Snedeker rise to the occasion and snipe a victory, then he would be deserving of a berth. It’s improbable that anyone else cracks this short list. The remaining four slots will be filled from these seven.


The Euros


While the European Team isn’t locked up just yet, we’ll take a quick peek at how that side is coming together very late in the process.


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 at Gleneagles concludes on Aug. 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; 4,050,288.10

2. Justin Rose; 2,602,910.21

3. Graeme McDowell; 2,375,790.52

4. Paul Lawrie; 2,088,718.02

5. Francesco Molinari; 2,062,525.67


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


1. Luke Donald; 363.46

2. Lee Westwood; 280.27

3. Peter Hanson; 189.32

4. Martin Kaymer; 172.26

5. Ian Poulter; 171.64


Movement since our last update involved Ian Poulter bumping Sergio Garcia out of the last World Ryder Cup spot. Garcia is the next eligible with 158.85 points.


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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