Race to the Ryder Cup: Walker, Koepka lead U.S. contingent hoping to earn big points at PGA

Race to the Ryder Cup: Walker, Koepka lead U.S. contingent hoping to earn big points at PGA

PGA Tour

Race to the Ryder Cup: Walker, Koepka lead U.S. contingent hoping to earn big points at PGA

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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – The U.S. Ryder Cup automatic qualification countdown is now inside a month.

On Aug. 28, eight players will cement their spots on captain Davis Love III’s squad for the Sept. 30-Oct. 2 matches at Hazeltine National. The likes of Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson have already locked up their places on the U.S. team, but with the PGA Championship and four more PGA Tour events on the schedule before the cutoff, there is still a lot that could happen.

This week at Baltusrol is a big week. No-brainer? Yes, this is a major. But there are also double Ryder Cup points on the line. Instead of one point per $1,000 earned like a regular Tour event, players will earn two points per $1,000 made this week at the PGA.

Jimmy Walker, the 36-hole co-leader after rounds of 65-66 at Baltusrol, surely could benefit from the bonus points. Two years ago, Walker already had his Ryder Cup berth clinched. However, he is currently 27th in U.S. points.

“I’d had it sewed up last time it came around at this point,” said Walker, who will skip next week’s Travelers Championship before playing three straight, the John Deere Classic, Wyndham Championship and The Barclays, the final event before the cutoff.

“But playing good at the end of the year would be nice. I feel like you kind of run up in there and grab a spot.”

A victory for Walker this week could move him as high as third in the U.S. standings. While Walker said he hasn’t looked at the standings, “I know I’m not where I would like to be,” he said.

Sharing that sentiment are the players currently on the outside looking in: No. 9 Brooks Koepka, No. 10 Rickie Fowler, No. 11 Patrick Reed and a slew of others.

“A goal of mine was to make a Ryder Cup team,” said Koepka, who returned to action this week after nearly a month on the disabled list with a right-ankle injury. The time off saw the 26-year-old slip from third in U.S. points.

“It wasn’t fun watching yourself fall back.”

Luckily for Koepka, he is 5 under at the halfway point of the year’s final major, and in position to grab some much-needed points come Sunday. Reed shot 5-under 65 Friday and is also 5 under. Fowler is a shot behind that at 4 under thanks to a birdie-eagle finish to cap a second-round 68.

The other U.S. Ryder Cup hopefuls in the top 20 playing their way into the weekend at Baltusrol: No. 3 Phil Mickelson (1 over), No. 4 Zach Johnson (3 under), No. 6 Brandt Snedeker (1 under), No. 7 Bubba Watson (even par), No. 13 Bill Haas (even par), No. 15 Jason Dufner (2 over), No. 16 Daniel Berger (even par), No. 18 Jim Furyk (1 over), No. 19 Will McGirt (3 under) and No. 20 Kevin Na (1 under).

Like Koepka, Berger is also making a return from injury this week. A left-shoulder strain has kept him out since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he withdrew after one shot.

“Trying to get some momentum going like I had before this happened,” said Berger, who will play the Travelers next week. “I just wanted to play this week obviously because it’s a major championship, but obviously it has some influence on the Ryder Cup, as well.”

Snedeker, who will take two weeks off before starts at Wyndham and The Barclays, is inside the Ryder Cup cut right now. He isn’t a lock, but he will add to his point total Sunday thanks to a 4-under 66 Friday that got him into the weekend.

“I realize that I need to play well coming down the stretch,” Snedeker said. “… I don’t really think about the Ryder Cup when I’m out there playing. But on Sunday when I get done, hopefully I can see what a great move I made.”

Snedeker is likely to make some move considering No. 5 J.B. Holmes missed the cut. Holmes is less than 1,000 points ahead of Haas at No. 13. Also failing to earn points this week will be No. 8 Matt Kuchar, the last guy in at the moment but going home after rounds of 74-72, as well as No. 12 Scott Piercy, No. 14 Kevin Chappell and No. 17 Charley Hoffman.

For those who don’t end up inside the final eight spots come Aug. 28, there is still hope. Love still has four captain’s picks, and as Walker put it, “solid play at the end of the year could get you the nod.”

Which is why these final weeks are so crucial. Play well; earn points.

“I’m not thinking about it,” Koepka said of the Ryder Cup. “I’m trying to win a major. If I win a major, everything takes care of itself. Simple.”

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