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.
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?
Here are a few additional tidbits that deserve some attention:
• Patrick Reed hasn’t cracked the top 45 in an event since winning at Trump Doral and declaring himself ready for the Mount Rushmore of golf.
• Quality Ryder Cup bubble players Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas are a respective 25th and 27th in the standings and likely need more than just a win to make a run at this team.
• Brandt Snedeker is 33rd in the standings and was messing with his putting stroke at THE PLAYERS. Not a good combination.
• Steve Stricker checks in at 48th. The good news is, he’s nine spots ahead of Tiger. The bad news is, who knows when he’ll play again.
• Nick Watney is 76th in the standings and sits between Billy Hurley III and Brooks Koepka. Just thought that needed to be pointed out.
We mentioned in our first edition that we would throw the Euro’s a bone in this coverage, and here it comes.
As for the Team Europe, standings for the Ryder Cup are pulled from two different lists; the World Points List and the European Points Lists. Yes, it’s about as confusing as the metric system. The top four players on the European Points List are automatically in, and then the top five players on the World Points List not already exempt via the European Points List are in. Following that, Paul McGinley rounds out the team with three picks.
The top four on the European Points List are Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson, Thomas Bjorn and Henrik Stenson. The five on the World Points List not otherwise exempt from the European Points List are Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer. Under this scenario, it would seem likely that Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood would be the favorites for two of the three captain’s picks. The final one could get interesting, with guys like Francesco Molinari, Miguel Angel-Jiménez and Graeme McDowell all worthy candidates.