ST. LOUIS – When Adam Scott knocked in the final putt on Sunday evening at the PGA Championship, the first eight players for the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team were determined. It was no mystery as to who was on the team as the eight didn’t change during the four days of competition at the year’s final major championship.
The eight – in order of ranking, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson – knew where they stood over the weekend, with only Simpson, who was on the bubble, having any significant concerns.
Furyk, who finished play hours before the final-round fireworks at Bellerive, sat in his hotel room here running the numbers projecting his eight qualifiers.
But in the cold reality of Monday, the question isn’t who made the team on points but rather who will make the team as a captain’s pick. It took the discussion squarely toward Tiger Woods, who stands 11th in the Ryder Cup standings and 26th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
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Tiger Woods, who is 11th in the Ryder Cup standings after a runner-up finish at the PGA, appears to be a lock for a captain’s pick.
“He's playing very well,” Furyk said after Woods placed second in the PGA, two strokes behind Koepka. It was Woods’ third finish of T-6 or better in his past four starts. “I think there's a lot of folks out there who probably think he can help us. What we wanted to talk about today was the top eight players. I realize Tiger is a story. I realize he's playing very well, and I'm excited to see that.”
Reading between the lines, Woods unquestionably has played his way onto his first Ryder Cup team since 2012.
How could he legitimately be left off?
It means that Furyk effectively has three picks to round out his team.
With Phil Mickelson at 10th on the points list and owning a victory this year at the WGC-Mexico Championship, he would seem to have earned a spot in his 24th consecutive international match-play event, dating to the 1994 Presidents Cup. However, Mickelson’s play since early March in Mexico has been poor. He has posted only one top 10, a T-5 at the Wells Fargo Championship in May, and missed cuts at the Players Championship and last week’s PGA.
One point in his favor: Mickelson ranks second on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting and stands among the top 10 in many of the key putting stats.
Add in the fact that he is sixth in birdie average, at 4.34 per round, and the flat stick could be Mickelson’s ticket to Paris.
“We have an idea of who they want to play with, who we think they pair up well with,” Furyk said. “I'll start kind of getting that down on paper and moving things around. That will give us an idea of what we need for pairings, what we think may help pairing-wise.”
Furyk wouldn’t confirm whether potential pairings or a player’s hot hand might be factors in his process of determining the picks.
It might seem as if Furyk is noncommittal, but he is not going to tip his hand in advance. Furyk will spend the next three weeks – three of the four picks will be named Sept. 4, the day after the Dell Technologies Championship – polling his eight players, vice captains and other insiders. The final pick will be made after the BMW Championship ends Sept. 9.
Furyk will be seeking to guide the U.S. to its first victory in Europe since 1993 and regain the advantage in a series in which Europe has won eight of the past 11 matches, trimming the Americans’ series lead to 26-13-2. The home team has won five of the past six matches.
“When you look at these matches, it's been very lopsided the last 20 to 30 years to the home side,” Furyk said. “So I'm very excited about my team, and I have a lot of confidence in these eight players, but each and every one of them knows the task ahead of us, and they know it's going to be tough. But I couldn't be more excited about the eight I have, and I do have confidence in them.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli