EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth in O's series of updates on the Ryder Cup held at Gleneagles in Scotland on Sept. 26-28.
Inside the Final Month
The hours are dwindling for players to make their final impressions on U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson and European skipper Paul McGinley. Both will round out their squads with captain's picks next week.
The nine automatics are locked in for Team USA. The three captain’s picks will be announced on Tuesday, Sept. 2. The European roster isn’t solidified just yet, but it will be with the next edition of the Official World Golf Ranking.
The Yanks are locked in with Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker and Bubba Watson. That’s a pretty nice mix of veterans and youth. Reed, Spieth and Walker are rookies, but Spieth has the advantage of having played a Presidents Cup.
Now the fun starts.
With a solid nucleus of players, captain Watson can fill in his roster with the final three as he deems necessary. Headed into the Deutsche Bank Championship, it would seem that the clubhouse favorites for the final three spots are Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker, in that order. That said, there are a handful of players that could displace one or more of those guys with a win or an otherwise big week at TPC Boston, coupled with poor performances from one or two of the guys currently on the right side of the bubble.
• Hunter Mahan – While he concluded the Ryder Cup points list in the 25th spot, his win at The Barclays would have likely moved him inside the top nine if the list was still running. He placed T15 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and T7 at the PGA Championship before winning The Barclays. He's also a veteran of two Ryder Cups, amassing a 3-2-3 record. With his combination of current form and Ryder Cup experience, he should be a lock to make the team at this point. If he doesn’t, then what’s the point of captain’s picks?
Mahan makes the team if: He makes the cut at TPC Boston and a perfect storm of challengers don’t finish 1-2-3. Chance of making the team: 98%.
• Keegan Bradley – The American Ian Poulter. Bradley is the heart and spirit of the U.S. squad. While he’s played only on one team (2012), he boasted a 3-1-0 record and ran the tables with current member Phil Mickelson as a partner. Bradley has likely pressed a little too hard down the stretch to make the team, but has proven that he thrives in team competitions and a Bradley/Mickelson pairing is a mere formality.
Bradley makes the team if: Should he crack the top 10 at TPC Boston, it really wouldn’t matter what happens around him. If he doesn’t pull that off, it should still take a pretty bad set of circumstances for captain Watson to pass him up. It probably doesn't hurt that Bradley was one of only two prospective Americans (automatic qualifier Jim Furyk was the other) to scout Gleneagles in July with captain Watson. Chance of making the team: 85%
• Brandt Snedeker – He was safely inside the bubble headed into The Barclays, but two very bad things happened to him. The first was self-inflicted as he missed the cut. The second was a win by Mahan, likely dropping Sneds from safely in to barely in. If the picks were made following The Barclays, he'd probably have held onto the last spot. Snedeker is a veteran of just one Ryder Cup, and his 1-2-0 record isn’t screaming “PICK ME.”
Snedeker makes the team if: A top 10 or 15 at the Deutsche Bank would prove that his missed cut last week was a fluke. That would be a huge start. Before his missed cut at Ridgewood CC, he had been on a T25-T12-T13-T5 run beginning at the RBC Canadian Open. He’s also the guy that needs to dodge a win by a handful of Americans in the field this week. Chance of making the team: 45%.
• Webb Simpson – There are a number of guys that could stake a claim to being the first man out, but Simpson is set apart due to his Ryder Cup experience (2-2-0 in his one trip) and his ability to pair well with Bubba Watson in past team competitions. Watson doesn’t seem to fit the mold of a great partner, but Simpson has figured out how to make it work. If captain Watson feels like he has a solid 11 players and he’s looking for a tie breaker in determining the 12th, that could bode well for Webber.
Simpson makes the team if: He’s been pretty inconsistent this year, so a timely top five or 10 could push him over the top. It stands to reason that a win would certainly do the trick. There isn’t a ton separating him and Snedeker, so some errors by Simpson’s closest competitors wouldn’t hurt. Chance of making the team: 40%.
• Ryan Moore – Seems to be succumbing to the pressure of making the squad, tying for 40th at the PGA Championship and missing the cut at The Barclays after moving to 11th in the standings with four consecutive top-12 finishes ahead of the PGA. On paper, there wouldn’t seem to be much of a reason for captain Watson to take a fourth rookie unless he was the clear favorite for a pick.
Moore makes the team if: He needs to contend -- and possibly win -- this week at TPC Boston. A back-door top 10 probably wouldn’t do it unless Snedeker and Simpson both fall apart and nobody lurking behind Moore has a better week. His best finish at TPC Boston is a pair of T10s. Chance of making the team: 10%.
• Brendon Todd – He had a chance to really make an impression at The Barclays last week, opening with a 66, but ultimately settled for a share of 46th. Simply put, he didn’t perform when his increased status landed him in some elite fields late in the season.
Todd makes the team if: Similar to Moore in almost every way, Todd needs a big week with plenty of time on television. Shooting a final-round 64 from 12 groups back to steal a top 10 isn’t going to get it done. Chance of making the team: 10%.
There are several guys that have a nice enough body of work to merit serious consideration with a win at TPC Boston. Names that pop to mind in that regard include Chris Kirk, Harris English, Kevin Na and Bill Haas. While there are others that might feel like they should warrant consideration with a win, it would be tough to go off the board for a guys like Kevin Stadler and Brian Harman, even with two wins this year, in place of more stable commodities like Snedeker and Simpson. Simply put, Kirk, English, Na and Haas all kind of pass the smell test with a win.
In conclusion, it seems likely that there is currently a four-for-three scenario in play right now. It would be mildly surprising if the four picks came from outside the quartet of Mahan, Bradley, Snedeker and Simpson.
As for Team Europe, we’ll skip the calculus equation that is the standings for the Euros and let common sense prevail.
Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn, Victor Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson are all going to automatically qualify for the team. Graeme McDowell probably will as well, but he’s the remaining wild card. If, for some reason, G-Mac doesn’t make the team on merit, Paul McGinley will pick him. That’s what we know.
For the casual golf fan, it would seem logical that McGinley has an easy job with his captain’s picks. He could tab Luke Donald, Ian Poluter and Lee Westwood and never look back. Given the strength of his automatics, and the recent domination the Euros have enjoyed, it would be hard to argue with staying chalky. Facts are facts, and Donald, Poulter and Westwood have all underperformed comparable to their high standards this year. Nothing that happens between now and when McGinley dubs his captain’s picks is going to change that.
Let’s look at the three Englishmen.
• Luke Donald – He’s the first man outside of the safety zone in the World Points list, narrowly trailing McDowell and likely the only guy that could unseat G-Mac this week. Perhaps the more compelling case for Donald is how well he’s paired with Sergio over the years. Donald is also 10-4-1 overall in his four Ryder Cups. That’s pretty hard to pass up.
• Ian Poulter – He’s 12-3-0 in his four Ryder Cups, and he gets crazy eyes at the Ryder Cup. He’s on the team.
• Lee Westwood – This is the tough one. He won’t be at The Barclays this week because he didn’t crack the top 100 in the FedExCup standings. That’s an indictment on how poorly he’s played this year. While his 18-13-6 in eight Ryder Cups is very good, it’s not as gaudy as the marks that Donald and Poulter have thrown up. Because of the leadership and camaraderie that Westwood brings to the team room, coupled with the strength of the team as it stands, it would be very hard to argue his inclusion, but it’s not a lock.
The problem with McGinley veering away from these options is the lack of an obvious alternative. Stephen Gallacher is worth a look, as is Miguel Angel Jimenez. Gallacher has never played in a Ryder Cup and the Mechanic is 2-7-3 (0-3 in Singles). Francesco Molinari is a catchy name, but the reality is that he is 0-4-2 in his two Ryder Cups. No thanks. At the end of the day, McGinley almost has to take his chances with his eight that are locked in, plus G-Mac as an automatic or captain’s pick, along with Donald, Poulter and Westwood.
Let’s face it. The Yanks aren’t going to be cheering if those are the names McGinley announces at his press conference, but they probably would crack a smile if anyone else made the roster.
We will be back the week of the Ryder Cup with an extensive preview, including potential pairing and a final prediction of scores per player and overall.