Plenty of Americans continue making case for Ryder Cup inclusion in first round of BMW Championship

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. – If U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker wasn’t watching Thursday’s opening round of the BMW Championship, there are plenty of highlights he can call up that will make him smile.

Half of Stricker’s team will be determined as the end of the BMW Championship, as the qualifying process comes to an end and the top 6 in the points race automatically make the team. Stricker will then fill out his squad with six captain’s picks after the conclusion of next week’s Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup Playoffs finale.

Well, at soft, hilly, hot Caves Valley Golf Club on Thursday, quite of few Americans continued to make their case to be a pick.

Sam Burns, who is 17th in the Ryder Cup standings, shot a bogey-free, 8-under-par 64 to grab a share of the lead with world No. 1 Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, who will be two stalwarts for Europe in the Ryder Cup.

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Patrick Cantlay, a winner earlier this year at the Memorial who is 11th in the standings, shot 64. Gold medalist Xander Schauffele, who stands seventh in the standings, shot 67, as did Webb Simpson, who is 13th.

Daniel Berger, 12th in the standings, shot 68. Schauffele, Cantlay and Berger could jump into the top 6 if either were to win this week and make the team automatically.

“I’d love to get a pick, and from all the guys I’ve heard, it’s just a totally different special week,” Cantlay said. “If I were to be a part of it, I think I’d really enjoy it, and I really like the team golf because it’s so rare, and it makes it so exciting, and it makes you so present as a competitor.

“I am looking forward to it a little bit, but there’s plenty of golf between here and there.”

Even Phil Mickelson continued his longshot chance to be a pick with a 68.

“The only way for me to have a realistic chance of being picked is to get into the Tour Championship and then play well in the Tour Championship,” the reigning PGA champion said. “That means I’ve got to finish top probably 3 I’m guessing.

“I’m certainly a long shot, but I’m starting to play well, and if I can put together three good rounds, you never know. I played OK. It was a good start. I’m starting to hit the ball a little bit better. I’m starting to putt a little bit better.

“I have not been playing the best in the first round, and so now I’m in a decent position where if I can go play and score the way I’ve been playing, I should be able to shoot something in the mid- to low-60s.”

Burns, who won his first PGA Tour title earlier this year in the Valspar Championship, posted his fourth 64 in his last eight rounds. Three weeks ago he lost in a playoff to Abraham Ancer in the World Golf Championships-St. Jude Invitational. He also finished second in the AT&T Byron Nelson and third in the Genesis Invitational this year.

“I’m just focused on tomorrow, having a good plan for tomorrow. I would do anything to be on that (USA) team. If I had the opportunity, that would be incredible,” Burns said. “There’s six guys that are guaranteed to make it. If you’re not in that six, you know some of that’s out of your control. Captain Stricker can go whatever route he wants. So just knowing that, that it’s not all necessarily in my control, I’m just going to go out and try to play the best golf I can. If it works out, incredible. If it doesn’t, I’ll be rooting hard for the team.”

Schauffele was in the mix to be a captain’s pick in 2018 but Jim Furyk selected Tony Finau, who was 15th in the standings, instead of Schauffele, who was 12th. Finau also just bumped Schauffele out of the top 6 in the standings with his win in the Northern Trust on Monday.

“I’m not really thinking a lot about it, in all honesty. I’m just trying to focus on the Playoffs and just get my ball in the hole here,” Schauffele said. “Just going to try and qualify for the team outright and go from there.

“I was so close before. For that reason it’s always been a personal goal of mine just to get on the team. I feel pretty comfortable with where I’m at, and I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.”