By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- We won’t know for another month who will be the captains’ picks for this year’s U.S. and European Ryder Cup teams, but Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal offered at least some insight on Wednesday.
“We'll be plugging holes, matching pairings,” Love said. “Obviously if Steve Stricker was on the outside, we have a guy that likes to play with him that's a lock.”
Tiger Woods is that lock as he’s the only player on either side to have mathematically secured a spot.
As Love indicated, Woods has had success alongside Stricker. The two compiled a 6-2 record when paired together in the last three international team competitions (2-1 in the 2010 Ryder Cup, 0-1 and 4-0 in each of the last two Presidents Cups).
Stricker is currently 10th in the standings. Only the top eight players after this week’s PGA Championship will automatically make the U.S. team, however. Love will then make four captain’s picks Sept. 4.
Others on the outside looking in include Hunter Mahan, who has won twice this season, at No. 9, and Jim Furyk, who had leads late into the U.S. Open and last week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, at No. 11. Furyk also finished second in Tampa, losing a playoff Luke Donald.
Rickie Fowler, who won earlier this year at Quail Hollow, is No. 12, while Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and Bo Van Pelt round out the top 15.
But as we saw with Keegan Bradley, a player can make a big leap in the standings with a win -- particularly this week with double points being awarded (players receive two points for every $1,000 in prize money earned). That means everyone down to Matt Every at No. 37 has a chance to earn an automatic spot with a victory at the PGA Championship.
“It just shows you that we are strong and all of the guys at the top are taking turns playing well,” Love said. “There's a lot of golf to be watched. Fifty-one days (until the Ryder Cup), there's three tournaments after this week. I would think somebody can get really hot that we are not even looking at.”
One player Love will be looking at is an ice cold Phil Mickelson, who is on the bubble of earning one of those automatic spots at No. 8 in the standings.
Mickelson, who won at Pebble Beach earlier this year, has just one finish inside the top 25 on the PGA TOUR since April. At one point during that span, he failed to break par in nine consecutive rounds -- the longest such streak of his career. He’s also missed the cut in two of his last three starts, including at the British Open, and admitted to being “lethargic” the last two months.
If Mickelson were to struggle again this week, he could drop in the standings and that might force Love to use one of his picks on the veteran of eight Ryder Cups and nine Presidents Cups.
“I think he and Steve and a lot of guys are trying really hard to make the team, and that might be hurting them a little bit,” Love said. “We have all been there; the last few weeks, you press a little bit, you try a little too hard.”
Olazabal is facing a similar dilemma with Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington, who have played in five and six Ryder Cups, respectively. They are 12th and 29th in the current standings, though Europe’s top 10 players won’t become final until the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles later this month.
Europe’s team will be comprised of the top five players from the Ryder Cup European points list and the top five not otherwise qualified from the world points list. Olazabal will add two captain’s picks the day after Europe’s top 10 spots become final.
“He's a great team player,” Olazabal said of Garcia. “His spirit is always really good, and in that regard I think he's a great asset to the team. It's true that at the moment his game is a little bit off. Pairing-wise, he's proved the last few Ryder Cups he can play with anybody, and he's done well. I think that's very important. If you are looking at the players to be on your team, Sergio would certainly be one of them for sure.”
Harrington’s chances seem far more tenuous.
“He has to do really extraordinary well,” Olazabal said. “He's well down the list. He's a very methodical player. From tee-to-green, his game has been fairly good, but I think his putting has let him down this year so far. If he really does extraordinarily well, he can have a great chance of making the team still, but it's going to be up to him.”
Whoever Olazabal and Love pick, both men will lean on their assistant captains, among others, when it comes to making their selections.
Love added that he doesn’t yet have a hard list of player’s he’s considering when it comes to his picks. But he does have an idea of what characteristics he’s looking for.
“You want some hot putters,” Love said. “You might want another long'-ball hitter.
“This week is important, because it ends the points. But it's just as important as any of the guys who play at Greensboro or who plays well at Barclays. I would like to catch somebody that's hot this week and the next two tournaments they play.”