EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in O's series of updates on the Ryder Cup held at Gleneagles in Scotland on Sept. 26-28.
There has been plenty of movement in the Team USA standings since our first preview on the road to Gleneagles for the 2014 Ryder Cup. Captain Tom Watson also declared his first lock. He also laid out what he expects to be the baseline for automatic qualification in his Captain’s Blog on the Team USA website. That’s as good a place to start as any.
Immediately following the Masters, captain Watson praised Bubba Watson’s second victory lap around Augusta National and declared him the first lock for the team. When we last checked in, Bubba was already well on his way towards booking a flight to Scotland, ranking third on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list.
Watson, the captain and not the Bubba, enlightened us in stating that he expects 4,600 points to be the threshold for automatic qualification. As a refresher, here’s how the points accumulate:
Points for Team USA are based off of money earned during the 2013-14 PGA TOUR season, as well as the four majors from 2013. U.S. players pick up one point per $1,000 earned for each of the four 2013 majors and all 2013-14 non-major events not played opposite a World Golf Championship or a major. Confused yet?
Players get two points per $1,000 earned in the four 2014 majors, but just half a point per $1,000 in any event played opposite the WGCs or majors. Think Puerto Rico Open.
The top 12 -- remember that the top nine are automatic -- in Team USA Ryder Cup standings following THE PLAYERS are:
1. Bubba Watson (6,283.056)
2. Jimmy Walker (4,772.071)
3. Matt Kuchar (4,060.666)
4. Jordan Spieth (3,988.064)
5. Jim Furyk (3,909.177)
6. Dustin Johnson (3,781.812)
7. Patrick Reed (3,038.426)
8. Phil Mickelson (2,821.562)
9. Zach Johnson (2,787.413)
10. Jason Dufner (2,682.521)
11. Harris English (2,680.515)
12. Chris Kirk (2,526.353).
Nine of those 12 were inside the top 12 in our first edition, with Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore and Kevin Stadler dropping out and being replaced by Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk and Jordan Spieth. Simply put, the cream is rising to the top.
While Tom Watson’s math would now tell him that there are two locks for Team USA, in reality there are probably five or six.
Leaders in the Clubhouse
Much like the old PGA TOUR Q School format, where all of the drama is saved for those on the bubble for a card instead of those going for the win, there isn’t much point in covering Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker from this point forward barring something absolutely crazy happening. Instead, we will spend plenty of time dissecting their roles on the team in our preview immediately prior to the start of the Ryder Cup, but for now they are merely bullet points.
Given the pedigree of the next four on the list, Kuchar, Spieth, Furyk and D. Johnson are virtual locks. The scenarios for them missing out on automatic spots are basically limited to injury, Americans below them winning the final three majors and grabbing double points, or Dustin and Paulina eloping and taking a four-month honeymoon. And let’s face it, who could blame him if that happened.
• Matt Kuchar – He’s given himself a chance to win no less than four tournaments in his last five starts, and while it almost looked accidental, he managed to close out the RBC Heritage for a tartan jacket. The dude has eight top 10s in 12 starts. At that clip, he’ll eclipse the 4,600-point threshold at or before the U.S. Open. Again, if 4,600 points doesn’t get it done, then blame Tom Watson and not me. It’s his math.
• Jordan Spieth – The captain was very complimentary of Spieth’s finish (T2) in his first Masters and his T12-T4 run at the RBC Heritage and THE PLAYERS didn’t do anything to hurt that. A little concern over his back-nine stumbles at Augusta National and TPC Sawgrass is fair, but he doesn’t need a win to gather enough points for inclusion at this point. Given how the rest of the team is coming together, he would likely be primed for a captain’s pick if push came to shove.
• Jim Furyk – Back-to-back runner-up finishes at Quail Hollow and TPC Sawgrass have thrust Furyk into the limelight for another Ryder Cup berth. American fans probably aren’t sure if this is a good or a bad thing (hint: probably not good), but all signs point to him being at Gleneagles.
• Dustin Johnson – If there is a guy in the top six about whom to be a little concerned, it’s DJ. Since his T4 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, he shot 80 and promptly withdrew from the Shell Houston Open, missed the cut at the Masters with rounds of 77 and 74, and then tied for 59th at THE PLAYERS last week. Playing devil’s advocate, his record at Augusta National has never been anything special and TPC Sawgrass isn’t exactly a bomber’s paradise. Still, the Kuchars, Spieths and Furyks of the world figure out a way to score top 25s in situations like that whereas DJ goes all JD (John Daly) and falls off the map.
There is a natural break in the standings after Dustin Johnson (3,781.812) in sixth and Patrick Reed (3,038.426) in seventh. In fact, Reed is 870.751 points behind Jim Furyk in fifth. In other words, Reed is in seventh place, but he’s a non-major win outside of the top five at this point. So, the difference between fifth and seventh is roughly the same as the split between seventh and 16th. That allows for a ton of movement in the bottom half of the standings over the next few months.