NORTON, Mass. – Monday’s final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship will be the last opportunity for U.S. players to “audition” for Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who will finalize the team Tuesday morning by making his four wild-card selections in New York.
It’s widely accepted among players that veterans Steve Stricker, a terrific clutch putter, and Jim Furyk, who has played on every U.S. Ryder/Presidents team since 1997, have all but locked up two of the spots. That would leave a handful of hopefuls vying for the other two.
Here’s a quick handicapping of that race, in order of how one writer believes they should fall on Love’s depth chart:
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1. Brandt Snedeker
He was on the board deep into Sunday at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham, where he showed the world once again how well he can putt, and has done a good job of keeping his nose in the mix. He tied for third at the Open, finished second at the Barclays, and is in line for a decent showing outside Boston, where he has made his share of birdies and is inside the top 10. A well-liked player who ranks first in the significant strokes-gained-putting category, Snedeker averages 3.88 birdies a round.
He can be a streaky player. Sunday at TPC Boston, Snedeker shot a back-nine 30 – finishing birdie-eagle. He lacks Ryder Cup experience, but with Woods, Mickelson, Stricker, Furyk & Co., the U.S. will have plenty. You have to make your first Ryder Cup team sometime, and he’d be a terrific addition in four-ball play.
“I needed that,” Snedeker said after his third-round 65. “I’ve been hitting the ball really well and struggling on the greens (through his first two rounds), which is really weird for me.”
Snedeker had 26 putts Sunday. When he had a shot to make the 2011 Presidents Cup team, Snedeker got too caught up in where he stood and kept getting ahead of himself. This time around, he has had conversations with Love about “the process.”
“He told me, ‘Don’t worry about the outcome.’ I’ve done a great job of that.”
Asked if he was pleased with what he’s shown Love, Snedeker said yes, he was.
“The only thing missing is a win,” Snedeker said. “I think that’s what Davis wants to see me go out there and try to win. I came close last week, a little frustrated with the way I finished last week, but this week I’ve still got a chance tomorrow. This is kind of where I make my hay, when I’m out of it. I’m going to try to go out there and shoot something low tomorrow.”
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2. Dustin Johnson
OK, so he missed three months beginning at the Masters, and it seems his season is really only getting started. But Johnson has been looking pretty good the past few weeks and making gobs of birdies again. Granted, when he has had a chance to compete in team play, he has been a disappointing performer (2-6-1 in the 2010 Ryder Cup and 2011 Presidents Cup), but he’s going to be on a lot of teams and needs to start getting it turned around at some point. As long as he pounds it, Johnson also feels he has ironed out some equipment tweaks to drive it a little straighter, so in theory he should be effective in either format.
Here are the strong points in his favor: Medinah is a big ballpark (7,658 yards), and the U.S. club could use a little more brawn, especially if Love adds three medium-length guys (Stricker, Furyk and Snedeker) among the wild-card picks. And Johnson is playing very well. He tied for third at Bethpage and is in the hunt for another very good finish at Deutsche Bank.
“It’s one of those things where it can’t hurt to play good golf, especially when he’s picking on Tuesday morning,” Johnson said of his Ryder aspirations. “. . . I really want to make that Ryder Cup team. That’s a big goal for me. I really enjoy playing on the team. I think I would be a good asset to the team, and I’ll be able to help them hopefully get the trophy back.”
Did we forget the reason that U.S. captain Paul Azinger spent time lobbying to get four picks instead of two when he took the helm for 2008? He wanted hotter players on his team. Johnson, who birdies half the par 5s he plays, certainly fits that bill. Don’t know exactly how he sits in Love’s Sea Island war room, but he gets the nod here.
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3. Hunter Mahan
He has won twice this season, and true, only one U.S. player (Tiger Woods) has won more. But his last win was five months ago, and Mahan’s form has seemed off for some time. He continues to struggle at TPC Boston, where he has broken par in only one of his three rounds (an opening 68).
On Saturday, he made triple bogey at the par-5 second and was fighting an uphill battle all day. His best finish in his last six starts is going to be a tie for 19th, and he missed cuts at two big stops: the PGA and Barclays. He has been a captain’s pick three times in his career. As talented as he is, even Mahan has to wonder if he’s done enough lately to warrant another selection.
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4. Rickie Fowler
He’s another guy who played well earlier in the season and has had ample chance to show Love something down the stretch but simply hasn’t done it. Fowler had a terrific run in the spring (Win, T-2, T-5, respectively, at Wells Fargo, Players, Crowne Plaza) but has not played well this summer. He missed the cut at the PGA and has but one top-25 finish beginning at Memorial. Love wants good putters, which keeps Fowler in the mix, but where’s the good form?
“I love being under the gun and having to make putts,” Fowler said this weekend at DBC, where he had to rally to make the cut. The man who finished with a flurry in Wales two years ago to tie his singles match might not get under the Ryder Cup gun again until 2014, in Scotland.
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5. Nick Watney
Big win last week at Bethpage, and he has hung in there rather nicely outside Boston this week, posting a five-birdie, bogey-free 66 on Sunday to get inside the top 20. He’s long, and that’s a plus, but he can be inconsistent with the putter. Here’s the thing: For a good part of the 2012 season, he was truly missing, and barely a factor among the game’s upper echelon.
How much has the Ryder Cup been on his mind?
“Honestly not too much,” Watney said Sunday. “It’s out of my control, and from where I was starting the playoffs, it’s good that I’m even in the conversation, if I am.”
He is, but it’s far more likely he’ll be a bigger part of the conversation two years from now, and sitting this one out.