The Usual Suspects
Earning one of the final three automatic spots up for grabs will likely require two things. A player must perform well in the remaining three majors to benefit from double points, and he will need to post consistent returns and possibly win between now and the end of the season.
It seems unlikely that someone outside of the top 20 in the current standings could pull this off without winning a major, so I’ll narrow my focus to players currently ranked seventh to 20th.
• Zach Johnson – He nabs the first remaining automatic spot for several reasons. For starters, he still has the sweet spots in his schedule of Colonial and the John Deere Classic upcoming. He also has the game and mentality to compete in any major. Since he’s currently ninth in the standings, essentially all he has to do is maintain.
• Webb Simpson – Hasn’t played particularly well of late, but the birth of a healthy child this week should put him in a great frame of mind for the stretch run. Sits 14th in the current standings and has shown plenty of skills in the majors along with the ability to perform at a high level for an extended period of time. He’ll probably win the Wyndham again since that’s what he named his new baby.
• Keegan Bradley – At 20th in the standings, he’s a risky inclusion to say the least. He gets the nod because he comes alive late in the summer without fail (yet). He is the perfect candidate to go on a run, similar to what Matt Kuchar did from the Valero Texas Open through the RBC Heritage and akin to what Furyk did in the last two weeks, at the WGC-Bridgestone and PGA Championship.
That makes nine automatics, with three captain’s picks remaining.
Here, Kitty Kitty
In our first edition, we explored the idea of Tiger Woods not making the team on merit and the possibility of Tom Watson having the stones to leave him off the team. That was BEFORE we knew that Woods had back surgery. So, we may as well discuss the giant pink elephant in the room.
• Tiger Woods -- Gets his own category. If we are to believe captain Watson, he will take a healthy and competitive Woods regardless of his actual ranking in the points standings. Watson had to say that. If he didn’t, he would have spent the next six months of his life answering questions about Tiger’s status as it relates to Team USA, and that’s not good for anyone. It will be interesting to see if Watson and Woods ultimately agree on the definitions of words like healthy, recovered and competitive. Fred Couples took Woods under similar circumstances for the 2011 Presidents Cup, essentially snubbing Keegan Bradley in the process, but the U.S. has a much better record in that event and the sense of urgency for a win isn’t the same as what Watson faces.
Reading the tea leaves, it seems like nobody has a clue – Tiger included – as to when Woods will return to action. The optimistic line of thought seems to be that he could be available for an Open Championship tune up at Quicken Loans National, while the pessimist guesses that the PGA Championship would be a best-case scenario. If the pessimist is right, he’d have to basically win the PGA to make the FedExCup Playoffs. If he’s not in the Playoffs, it’s hard to see how Watson could accurately judge his health and form other than taking Tiger’s word for it. And Camp Tiger is always very honest and forthcoming with all of the relevant facts, so good luck there. Yes, that last bit was sarcasm.
Keep Your Phone Nearby
Assuming Woods is out of the equation, the best three options to compliment the nine automatics as captain’s picks are:
• Phil Mickelson – Mickelson feels like a Toby Keith song at this point. He ain’t as good as he once was, but he can occasionally pull it together for some magic. Given what he’s done with Keegan Bradley in the past, he has to be on the team to join hands with the Stink Eye for two or three team events. I can’t recall another player that’s current tournament form from one week to the next is as unpredictable as Lefty’s.
• Jason Dufner – Along the lines of a Mickelson-Bradley tandem, the duo of Dufner and Zach Johnson is probably the second best in the U.S. arsenal. Dufner is going to need to play more frequently and more consistently than he has lately, but he makes plenty of sense to plug in with ZJ.
• J.B. Holmes – It’s easy to forget, but he put up a 2-0-1 record at Valhalla in his only Ryder Cup experience (2008), winning his singles match in the process. Oh, by the way, that was the last time the U.S. won the Ryder cup. He’s 19th in the current standings and rising fast. WHY NOT???? It’s not like he can be any worse than Furyk (9-17-4).
Never Say Never
Last edition we took a look at two players who fit a Dark Horse or Wild Card category à la Jordan Spieth for the 2013 Presidents Cup. Those were Brooks Koepka and Peter Uihlein. Koepka has since secured Special Temporary Membership on the PGA TOUR and remains alive for consideration pending a hot run. He’s currently 77th in the standings. Uihlein has been much quieter.
We’ll keep Koepka on the list and replace Uihlein with Erik Compton, whose medical history as a two-time heart transplant recipient makes him everyone’s favorite underdog on the PGA TOUR. His play has been strong of late, making 11 of his last 12 cuts including a T5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a T5 at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Those aren’t exactly the Masters, but they aren’t the Puerto Rico Open either.
What if Compton wins a tournament? The Ryder Cup is about emotion and team chemistry. How could a team not rally around Erik Compton?