Love has a big Ryder Cup decision ahead

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III looks on as European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal speaks during a practice round of the 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course.

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III looks on as European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal speaks during a practice round of the 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course.

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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – If the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings don’t change in this last week of qualifying, captain Davis Love III’s four wild-card choices likely would break down thusly:

• Three locks in Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk – experienced Ryder Cup players who happen to be Nos. 9-11, respectively, on the list.

• Three players – Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson – for the final captain’s pick.

At a PGA Championship news conference Wednesday, Love said he would rely on the likes of Tiger Woods, Stricker and Furyk to make various decisions. Implicit in that statement is that Love views Stricker and Furyk as team members. He wouldn’t involve them in decision-making if they weren’t going to be on the team.

As for Mahan, he is a two-time winner this year and has played on the last five U.S. international cup teams – two Ryder, three Presidents. One person close to Love said Mahan would be on the team if he doesn’t qualify on points.

For his part, Love on Tuesday was incredulous that someone who has two 2012 victories would be outside the automatic-qualifier line.

“How can that even happen?” Love said. “You’d think he’d be in.”

At the moment, Fowler, Snedeker and Johnson are Nos. 12-14, respectively, in points. If the top eight remain the same, which one would Love pick?

Could be any of the three. It’s too early to tell, and that’s not a cop-out. Love doesn’t have to make his four selections until Sept. 4 – after this week’s PGA Championship, next week’s Wyndham Championship and the first two FedEx Cup playoff events (Barclays and Deutsche Bank).

“I’m trying not to stress on (the four picks) now,” Love said. “A lot can happen. There’s a lot of golf to be watched. You never know what could happen.”

Even though the eight qualifiers will be locked up after this PGA, only Woods has clinched a berth. So the top eight could look a bit different Sunday night. And candidates have four more tournaments in which to prove themselves worthy. So the landscape could change.

Love said he would lean on veterans and friends. He said he’d make his picks based on “matching pairings and plugging holes.”

The current 3-for-1 players bring different assets to the table: Fowler has grit and appeal, Snedeker has putting and Johnson a power game that would suit Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, site of the Sept. 28-30 matches.

Fowler won the Wells Fargo Championship in early May but has been off lately, finishing anywhere from T-31 to T-60 in his last four starts.

Still, one Love associate said the captain does not like controversy, and not including Fowler could be viewed as controversy because of his widespread fan appeal, particularly with youth. On top of that, Love was an assistant when Fowler birdied the last four holes for a singles halve at the 2010 matches.

Still, Johnson has six Tour victories, five more than Fowler. He also has fared better the past two months, winning in Memphis and tying for ninth at the Open Championship.

As for Snedeker, he’s a three-time winner who tied for third at the Open Championship despite shooting 147 on the weekend. He ranks fifth on Tour in putting and ninth in birdie average, two statistical categories that translate well to match play.

European captain Jose Maria Olazabal will make his two picks Aug. 27, a day after the automatic 10 qualifiers are decided at the Johnnie Walker Championship. If the standings remained the same, his most likely choice would seem to be Ian Poulter. The Englishman is 12th on the European Team World Points list, right behind Nicolas Colsaerts.

Poulter has a 9-2 record in three Ryder Cups. He went 4-1 in 2008 and 3-1 last time.

Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, 19th in points, has played well in spots this year. He tied for eighth at the Masters and for fourth at the U.S. Open. But on Wednesday, Olazabal didn’t sound like someone who was ready to pick the Irishman no matter what.

“He has to do really extraordinarily well,” said Olazabal, with whom Harrington was involved in a controversy over the repairing of a pitch mark at the 2003 Seve Trophy. “He’s well down the list. . . . From tee to green, his game has been fairly good, but I think his putting has let him down this year. As I said, (there are) three weeks left. If he does extraordinarily well, he can have a great chance to making the team still, but it’s going to be up to him.”

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