Pavin still searching for Ryder Cup wild cards

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin at a press conference.

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin at a press conference.

NORTON, Mass. – Did you catch the Emmys the other night, where a half-dozen guys get nominated for a best actor award and five have to paste on a frozen smile when someone else’s name gets called? 

In golf, this exercise – sans the tuxedos – takes place every other year. It’s called the Ryder Cup.

Captain Corey Pavin’s last big tango before departing for Wales Sept. 26 will be filling out the final four members of his 12-man U.S. squad, which he’ll do on Tuesday in New York. Fittingly, the announcement will be made at the New York Stock Exchange, where one man’s gamble on a stock can make him famous and wealthy or absolutely break him.

photo

Tiger Woods during Round 1 of The Barclays.

Once upon a time, a Ryder Cup captain was granted only two picks, until Paul Azinger argued he needed hotter guys to return U.S. fortunes in the event and lobbied for four in 2008. He became a big red, white and blue success. Four rounds of the Deutsche Bank Championship remain between now and then, and exactly what this year’s captain is seeking ... well, an exact description is hard to put into words, apparently. It seems to be something of a gut feeling that will navigate Pavin. Maybe it will hit him in the middle of his sleep Monday evening in the Big Apple.

“There’s no promises out there to anybody,” says the new Captain America.

Whose shoulders will get tapped by Pavin come Tuesday? The consensus is that Tiger Woods, he being the No. 1 player in the world, and Zach Johnson, he being a guy with a red-hot putter who seems to be rounding into good form, are pretty much locks. From there, knowing Pavin’s next two wild cards may be tougher to figure out than the exact path of Hurricane Earl.

It’s not that he has whittled his list down to a simple handful. Pavin said on Thursday at TPC Boston there are at least 14 players not yet on the team still in his sights. He even showed his working list, on a folded-up sheet of paper, to Luke Donald and Ian Poulter, two Ryder Cup foes, over lunch. Hmmm. They probably suggested he leave Tiger at home.

Pavin hosted a barbecue at his rented home at the PGA Championship in Wisconsin a few weeks back for about 20 potentential team members, and those players who broke bread that night still remain in the mix. He even added David Toms post-PGA after the veteran’s great run in Greensboro a few weeks ago, where he was runner-up.

Stewart Cink has Ryder Cup experience, and he’s a man on the bubble. Cink, the 2009 British Open champion, showed some pretty good bottle at Whistling Straits two weeks ago, where he rebounded from a brutal opening round (77) to not only make the cut, but climb all the way into the top 20.

The two players who fell out of automatic qualifying at the PGA, Lucas Glover and Anthony Kim, haven’t done much to improve their chances of late. Glover has missed two cuts in his last three starts, and in the other kicked away a chance to win at the Wyndham Championship. Kim, who opted to have thumb surgery earlier this season, has missed three consecutive cuts for the first time as a pro. Hot he’s not.

Rickie Fowler seems a popular candidate. He had a stellar 7-1 record as an amateur in the last two Walker Cups, but a Ryder Cup in Wales? That’s a far different rodeo. He also might not be helped by the fact the team has four Ryder Cup rookies already among the eight automatic qualifiers (Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jeff Overton) and has yet to win on the PGA Tour. But Fowler has received some inside support from lobbyist Phil Mickelson, and Pavin, a fellow Californian, is familiar with his promising talents.

Nick Watney? Sean O’Hair? Bo Van Pelt? Ricky Barnes? Ryan Palmer? J.B. Holmes? A few hot days, a victory at Deutsche Bank, and who knows? Winning in the playoffs certainly can upgrade a guy from “watch” to “hot” in a hurry.

“Depending on who it is, it would give me pause, yes,” Pavin said Thursday.

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Ben Crane celebrates after winning the Farmers Insurance Open Jan. 31 at Torrey Pines.

Maybe the guy flying under the radar the best is Ben Crane, who happens to be a good friend of Pavin’s. Pavin made his rounds all over TPC Boston on Thursday, and Crane was one of the players with whom he spent some time visiting. Crane won this season in San Diego, ranks second in the Tour’s “all-around” ranking and is the highest-ranked American in the FedEx Cup race not already on the team.

“I know a lot of times in the past the Europeans have played well because they have the hotter players going into the event,” Crane said. “I’ve been playing very well, the best golf of my life this year. I’m excited about that.

“There’s a lot of different strategies (for Pavin). There’s experience. There’s picking the hot player. There’s a lot of different ways to look at it. We’ll find out in a few days, I guess.”

We all will find out in a few days. In the meantime, “As The Ryder Cup Turns” will be an interesting soap opera to keep an eye on over four tournament days in Massachusetts. Englishman Justin Rose, left on the outside looking in and heartbroken last Sunday when European captain Colin Montgomerie made his captain’s picks, even offered a little advice to all his U.S. comrades competing inside the fishbowl this week:

“I think mentally, if you’re going to play well in a tournament, you’ve got to get rid of all that baggage,” Rose said. “If you can’t do it, that’ll make your week tough. I guess that’ll show Corey who is up for the challenge. The guys who are capable of putting all this aside are probably the guys you want on your team.”

Four will get picked. And others will be left flashing that empty smile for coming oh-so-close, asked to wait two more years.

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