PALM BEACH, Fla. — Now comes the difficult part – perhaps the most difficult part – of Davis Love’s job as captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
He has to fill out the final four spots on the squad.
The eight automatic qualifiers, via a points system, were set with Sunday’s completion of the PGA Championship, and Love will announce his captain’s picks Sept. 4 with the match-play competition against Europe taking place Sept. 28-30 at Medinah in suburban Chicago.
“Hopefully they will relax and just play,” Love said of candidates under consideration who will compete in PGA Tour events before he makes his selections.
The eight players already on the team, in order of points earned: Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson.
“Our top 12 to 15 guys seem to be playing very, very well,” Love said.
Not really, but the numbers mentioned by Love probably serve as the best barometer regarding his field of study. Again in order of points earned, the players through the 15th spot are: Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, Bo Van Pelt and Dustin Johnson.
It’s a reasonable guess that Love’s four choices will come from among those seven players, and, in fact, he already has said Mahan, Stricker and Furyk are “high on the list.”
That can’t be coincidence.
Love said he figures it will come down to making a “gut decision” based on Ryder Cup experience, a player’s momentum, and potential partnership compatibility for the alternate-shot and better-ball formats.
But let’s assess each of the seven presumptive candidates:
• Mahan — He has played in the past two Ryder Cup meets and lost the clinching singles match to Graeme McDowell the last time around. He did win the Accenture Match Play title early this season by beating PGA Championship winner Rory McIlroy in the final.
• Stricker — He also has played in the past two Ryder Cup competitions and is a valuable asset as a calm and steady personality amidst the pressure. Mostly, though, he’s a natural pairing with Woods.
• Furyk — He’d bring loads of experience (on the team for the past seven Cups) and is 4-2-1 in singles. But he’s 4-13-3 in partnerships and has had more than a little trouble closing the deal with chances to win this year.
• Fowler — He made his Ryder Cup debut two years ago in the most recent matches and rallied from a late deficit to get a singles halve. But he hasn’t played well recently on the PGA Tour, which might put him on the bubble unless he comes up with the goods in an upcoming event.
• Snedeker — He’d be a Ryder Cup rookie, and there already are three of them among the automatics (Dufner, Bradley and Simpson). But he does have an easygoing style that would make him easy to pair (with Zach Johnson?)
• Van Pelt — He’d be a rookie, too, but has played as well as almost anybody recently with the exception of a missed cut at the British Open. He is an extraordinary shot shaper, which is a handy tool under pressure.
• Dustin Johnson — He has the power game Love says he’s looking for and won in a singles rout in his Ryder Cup debut two years ago. But he otherwise lost twice in partnerships with Mickelson and once with Furyk. He sometimes looks disinterested.
Let’s call Stricker a lock, Furyk pretty close to it and Mahan a probable. That would leave four players — Fowler, Snedeker, Van Pelt and Dustin Johnson — for one position. It’s likely a beauty pageant until early September with Fowler a slight favorite ahead of Johnson at the outset.
The eight players who have already qualified for the U.S. Ryder Cup team that will compete against Europe on September:
1. Tiger Woods. Won three tournaments.
2. Bubba Watson. Got himself a fancy new green jacket.
3. Jason Dufner. Perhaps the steadiest player on Tour, an irony considering how he lost last year’s PGA to…
4. Keegan Bradley. Staying strong and fast developing into one of the best young Americans in the game.
5. Webb Simpson. Won the U.S. Open. That’ll do.
6. Zach Johnson.Victories at Crowne Plaza and John Deere highlight a resurgent year.
7. Matt Kuchar. A top-10 machine, with a highlight win at The Players.
8. Phil Mickelson. Barely squeaked in during an unspectacular one-win year for him. Probably saved himself from a humiliating exclusion.
©2012 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)
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