Ryan O'Sullivan

Road to the Ryder Cup

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Ryder Cup Update, Part 6

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Davis Love III has spoken.


With his selections of Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and Steve Stricker, the U.S. squad is set. They join automatic qualifiers Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods to formulate arguably the strongest U.S. team in years.


Team U.S.A. boasts some fresh faces, as the four rookies of Bradley, Dufner, Simpson and Snedeker, will join eight veterans. Of those four, only Simpson has the experience of a Presidents Cup in his back pocket.


Love kept the controversy to a minimum, as he basically went chalk with his picks. In the final days leading up to the selections, the group of potential selections had dwindled to the four eventually chosen along with Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney.


Meet Me at Medinah


Here’s how the four picks separated themselves:


Steve Stricker ... Thought by many to be a lock for a pick the moment the PGA Championship ended with him on the outside looking in, there never really was much drama surrounding this one. He kicked off the season with a win at Kapalua. His current form is solid, finishing inside the top 13 in four of his five starts before the picks were announced following the Deutsche Bank Championship. Equally important, if not the number one factor, is the likely pairing of Stricker with Tiger Woods. Their history as partners is well-documented, and captain Love stressed the importance of his selections filling needs in the department of pairings.


Brandt Snedeker ... He was on the short list but likely just on the outside as he walked off the Ocean Course. He played the maximum number of tournaments between the PGA Championship and the time the captain’s picks were announced, finishing T28 at the Wyndham Championship, second at The Barclays and T6 at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Add to that a body of work that includes a win at the Farmers Insurance Open and a T3 at the British Open, and he earned his selection in every way possible. Not lost on DL3 is Snedeker’s reputation for being one of the best putters in the world, leading the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained.


Dustin Johnson ... Much like Snedeker, Johnson entered the final three-week tryout for the Ryder Cup firmly on the bubble. Also like Snedeker, his performance down the stretch made him impossible to overlook. The bomber feasted on Bethpage Black’s long layout at The Barclays and posted a T3. He followed that up with a T4 on TPC Boston at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He has a win on his résumé, and if not for an extended absence during the heart of the season, it is highly likely that he would have accumulated enough points to earn his way on the team anyway. With rumors floating around that Davis Love III will set up Medinah to play long, Johnson was a no-brainer selection.


Jim Furyk ... If there is a controversial pick, this is it. Furyk is the only member of the U.S. squad without a 2012 win, and easily could have avoided this dilemma altogether if he could have closed the deal on one of the three tournaments he handed away.  While the Transitions Championship can be overlooked, his more notable collapses involved losing the lead on the last few holes at the U.S. Open and a surprising final-hole debacle at Firestone during the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The arguments in his favor are that he put himself in that position so many times, and he went 5-0 in last season’s Presidents Cup. While experience may have been a factor in this pick, I’m not sure how many good memories he’ll be able to relay to his teammates. He is 8-15-4 in his seven Ryder Cups, which includes five European wins to just two for the Yanks. I would like to think he was the last man in, and earned the spot due to lack of form by both Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan as well as Nick Watney’s body of work not qualifying as strong enough. In my book, Furyk’s consistently been the last man in for the last few months due to the lack of a stronger option to bump him, and that remained the case until the end.


Not Invited to the Party


Here’s why the next three were unable to squeeze their way onto the team:


Hunter Mahan ... It’s shocking to think that Mahan could win twice in the year of the Ryder Cup, including the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play, and not make the squad, but that’s exactly what happened. I have to think he was the first man out, but he has no one to blame but himself. He last cracked the top 20 when he tied for 19th at the British Open; his last top 10 was a T8 at the AT&T National. Both of those events were in July. Since then, he missed two of five cuts while a T39 at TPC Boston was his best finish leading up to the selections. Confirming to DL3 that he was correct in leaving Mahan off the team, he promptly finished dead last in the no-cut BMW Championship. It’s not without precedent that someone hoists two trophies in a season and gets the snub. It happened to Brian Gay in the Presidents Cup in 2009. The difference is the Presidents Cup is a two-year race with two captain’s picks, so Mahan’s inability to earn a spot is a bigger surprise. If DL3 had the guts to take a chance on Mahan, I’d like to think he may have been rewarded, as Mahan’s 2010 Ryder Cup ended with a disappointing single’s loss that he would have been hungry to avenge.


Nick Watney ... He jumped into the fray with a win at The Barclays, and he would have made things very interesting if he could have contended at TPC Boston and notched a top 10. As it were, Watney’s performance over the long haul did not rival that of those selected. His three other top 10s amounted to nothing better than an eight-place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship. He gets a check in the current form column, but there are too many gaps in his résumé to make a team as deep as this one.  The 2006 season where J.J. Henry, Brett Wetterich and Vaughn Taylor made the squad would have been another story.


Rickie Fowler ... Much like Mahan, before the calendar turned to June it appeared he was a lock. The knock on Fowler had always been that he hadn’t won. His first victory came at Quail Hollow in the Wells Fargo Championship on a legit course against an elite field. Heck, he even beat Rory McIlroy in the playoff. In his next two tournaments, he posted a T2 at TPC Sawgrass and a T5 at Colonial, but hasn’t cracked a top 20 since. In retrospect, it appears Fowler may have made a mistake by taking a long layoff from the U.S. Open to the British Open, where he didn’t play a tournament.


The Euros


Since we last checked in, the European team turned from pencil to pen and is also set for Medinah.


Joining the 10 automatics of Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer, Paul Lawrie, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood are Jose Maria Olazábal’s two captain’s picks of Nicolas Colsaerts and Ian Poulter.


Colsaerts will fill a role similar to that of Ross Fisher in 2010. He’s extremely long off the tee, rivaling Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson on the U.S. side. Colsaerts' selection also makes him the only rookie on the European squad.


Poulter was a rock on Nick Faldo’s 2008 team that came up short at Valhalla, earning four points in five matches in what was the last time the Cup was contested on American soil. Cracking top 10s in three of the four majors, including a T3 in the recent PGA Championship, along with being the first man outside the automatic spots made the Englishman a no-brainer.


While it’s hard to make a case for their being a snub on the European side, since Olazábal took the next two guys on the complicated European point list, there were some calling for Padraig Harrington to make the squad over Colsaerts. There would have been some safety in calling the Irishman’s name due to his experience, but his body of work and recent form didn’t demand the pick. The predicament with Harrington wasn’t all that different to the one Jim Furyk found himself in, just with a different result.


We will check back in with a full preview of the Ryder Cup the week of September 23, previewing possible pairings and predicting who will shine for both sides of the pond.


Ryan O’Sullivan joined Rotoworld in 2012. The Clemson grad blogs as The Golf Aficionado.
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