Ryder Cup Report, Part 3

Ryan O'Sullivan
If Josh Culp ruled the world of golf, you'd be seeing much more of guys like PGA TOUR winner Brendon Todd (pictured) when he's playing well

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in O's series of updates on the Ryder Cup held at Gleneagles in Scotland on Sept. 26-28.

The Dust Is Beginning to Settle

As each tournament passes, the 2014 Ryder Cup inches closer by the minute. With that, the teams are coming into greater focus.

The PGA TOUR season is well past the halfway point, and two of the four majors, also known as double-point events, are in the books.

Before we dive into the status of the teams, with most of the attention focused as always on Team USA as it looks following the U.S. Open, it’s worth pointing out comments Tom Watson made ahead of the U.S. Open. The captain for Team USA said before our last update that he would take a healthy Tiger Woods with a captain’s pick. He recently confirmed that is still the case, and went on to say that Phil Mickelson would be all but a lock for a pick if he needed it. Both of those players are outside of the automatic qualifier spots, meaning they would soak up two of Watson’s three picks.

As a refresher, Watson believes, with the help of the PGA of America, that it will take roughly 4600 points to qualify for his squad on merit. We went ahead and declared Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker as locks and said we wouldn’t spend much more time on them until the preview for the actual event once all of the players are known. So that’s all for Watson and Walker.

Hard Hats

Two other players have joined the firm of Watson & Walker inside the safety zone:

• Dustin Johnson (4,812.202) – Jumped from fifth to third in the standings with his T4 at the U.S. Open and is now all but officially safe. He ranked sixth when last we checked in and seemed to be a solid bet to make the team but still had work to do. This team is looking very long off the tee, as DJ and Bubba are two of the longest players on the planet and Jimmy Walker isn’t exactly short.

• Matt Kuchar (4,684.187) – He was trending toward a mere formality in our second edition of this piece, and now he’s crossed over into the safety zone. Kuchar brings some versatility to the team and offers Tom Watson a plethora of options in terms of pairings. A true grinder, he’ll be a solid team member.

Masters of Their Domain

If the math is correct, these guys can coast.

• Jordan Spieth (4,422.573) – Short of an injury, it’s nearly impossible to envision the scenario where he doesn’t make his first Ryder Cup team. If, for some surprising reason, he doesn’t make it on merit, he’s an incredibly attractive option for Watson as a captain’s pick. Spieth will bring some serious moxie to the team and should pair well with almost anyone. He'll even be legal by the time hits the air for Gleneagles. The wunderkind will turn 21 on July 27.

• Jim Furyk (4,302.834) – Given his disappointing Ryder Cup record over the years, it’s yet to be determined if his inclusion on the team would be a good or a bad thing for the Yanks, but the reality is that he will likely tee it up at Gleneagles. It seems increasingly logical to think that he must earn his way onto the team via merit, especially given the tipping of the hand that Woods and Mickelson could very well allow Watson just one more selection.

That leaves just three more automatic spots up for grabs.

Middle Managers

The next three on the list following the U.S. Open are Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner and Patrick Reed. Each of these has navigated a very different road to this point.

• Rickie Fowler (3,831.433) – Tied for second in the U.S. Open last week, vaulting from 18th to seventh thanks to the double-point event. His play in the two majors has been fabulous, but he isn’t showing up with consistency in non-major tournaments. With majors in 2014 offering double points, he reaps the benefits of a qualification system that stacks the deck in his favor.

• Jason Dufner (3,466.285) – The biggest reason he's this high is due to his PGA Championship win in 2013. The majors were the only events last season to receive Ryder Cup points. Considering he tends to heat up in the summer, he is probably the most likely of those in the 7-8-9 spots to qualify.

• Patrick Reed (3,132.032) – He’s really struggled since declaring himself a top-five golfer, but with the recent birth of his first daughter in his past, it’s possible he’ll catch a second wind in time to qualify.

Ultimately, the last three spots for automatic qualification are wide open considering the volatility provided in majors.

The Scrum

Here is a look at those falling in line from spots 10-20.

• Phil Mickelson (3,095.086) – We’ve been over this. It’s highly likely that he’s in no matter what. At this point, it would be a mild surprise if he earned his way onto the team.

• Chris Kirk (3,030.729) – It would be a tough scenario for captain Watson if Kirk earned his way onto the team and guys like Keegan Bradley, Zach Johnson and Webb Simpson were on the outside. Kirk stands very little chance of earning the final captain’s pick under the Woods-Mickelson scenario.

• Zach Johnson (2,888.578) – Failed to take care of business at Colonial and has now put himself behind the eight ball. As mentioned in previous editions, it would benefit him for his familiar partner, Jason Dufner, to earn a spot on the team when it comes time to announce the three captain’s picks.

• Harris English (2,770.723) – He’s fading and needs to string together some solid weeks in order to enter the conversation for a pick or to enter the top nine.

• Kevin Na (2,735.506) – Wonder how long it would take him to tee off on the first tee at Gleneagles considering his past demons?

• Brendon Todd (2,713.691) – If the Ryder Cup started tomorrow and I had a pick; he’d be on the team. Neither of those conditions applies. Still, Todd has played really well the last month plus and should warrant a hard look if he keeps it up.

• Webb Simpson  (2,607.093) – Falling behind faster than anyone would have thought given how he started the season. His primary value, and thus the argument for being on the team, could rest with his past success when paired with Bubba Watson.

• Keegan Bradley (2,569.429) – Hard to believe it could come down to a pick, but that’s how it looks today. He’s morphing into America’s version of Ian Poulter, as he lives and dies by this event, so Tom Watson could do a heck of a lot worse than selecting him if it comes down to it.

• Ryan Moore (2,452.377) – Given the elite options ahead of him, he needs to earn it.

• Erik Compton (2,441.893) – Jumped from 59th to 19th with his T2 at the U.S. Open. Perhaps he read the last edition of this feature where we listed him as a dark horse to make the team.

• Matt Every (2,404.426) – Like several others before him, likely needs to earn it.

Best of the Rest

• Brandt Snedeker – Currently 29th. He switched putters at the U.S. Open and it yielded immediate results. He’s a guy that has the firepower to get hot and rattle off some big enough finishes to make a huge push in the 11th hour.

• Brooks Koepka – Touting him as a dark horse since day one, his T4 at the U.S. Open moved him from 81st to 42nd in the current standings. He isn’t such a long shot now.

• Tiger Woods – Dropped to 67th, but Tom Watson still wants him and that’s all that matters.

For the record, Tom Watson’s love affair with Woods and Mickelson seems misguided. If the top nine remain, with Fowler, Dufner and Reed claiming the last three spots, the selections should complement the players already on the team. That means ZJ and Keegan Bradley should get the first two nods, with Mickelson taking the last spot to play team events alongside Bradley. Mickelson’s inclusion shouldn’t be based on his name, but his stellar record when paired with Keegan Bradley. The Yanks would then have some of their best groups from Medinah intact for Gleneagles.

Defending Champions

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, captain Paul McGinley rounds out the team with three picks.

The top four on the European Points List are Victor Dubuisson, Thomas Bjorn, Henrik Stenson and Jamie Donaldson. The five on the World Points List not otherwise exempt from the European Points List are Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and Justin Rose. Under this scenario, it would seem likely that Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood , Graeme McDowell, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Francesco Molinari would be among the favorites the three captain’s picks. Expect the next two majors to potentially settle that debate.