News & Opinion

'Impossible not to pick' Finau, Furyk says

You can’t help but wonder whether U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk already is having buyer’s remorse over his four picks. As expected, Furyk took Tony Finau with his final selection just a couple of hours after Monday’s conclusion of the BMW Championship, the third of four FedEx Cup playoff events.

But he could have had so much more. If Furyk had made Finau one of the first three picks last week along with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau and waited to see what Phil Mickelson did over the long weekend, he would have had the chance to make an already strong team even more formidable.

Mickelson, one of the three picks last week (“Mickelson, Woods win another Ryder shot,” Sept. 5), was DFL after the first two rounds at the BMW before finishing with 67-66 to get Furyk off what would appear to be a semi-hook. The American captain was partially snookered, and he put himself in that position.

Had he deferred on Mickelson, Furyk would have had the chance to choose Xander Schauffele or even Keegan Bradley, who won the BMW in a playoff over Justin Rose (scores), the new No. 1 player in the world and one of the leaders of the European Ryder Cup team.

It was the whole purpose of the so-called Horschel Rule that the U.S. captain was given one last-minute pick to take someone who was playing with a hot hand. It was named for Billy Horschel, who won the Tour Championship in 2014 after finishing second at the Deutsche Bank Championship and winning the BMW Championship. All of captain Tom Watson’s picks had been made before the playoffs, and there was no way to get Horschel, the hottest player in the game at the time, onto the team.

In fact, Horschel looked as if he might have been in the running for his own rule. He led the BMW for much of the day on Monday, finishing T-3. Had he won, Horschel would have had that result to go with a T-3 at the Northern Trust, the first playoff event.

As it was, Schauffele had a real chance to give Furyk a huge headache. Last season’s rookie of the year was one shot back of Rose’s 54-hole lead at the BMW and finished in a tie with Horschel. Had Schauffele won, he could have added it to a resume that included T-2s at the British Open and the Players Championship and a T-6 at the U.S. Open.

But Schauffele couldn’t get over the line, and Finau shot a bogey-free 65 on Monday to put up a T-8, one of 11 top-10 finishes this season. He was second at the Northern Trust and T-4 at the Dell Technologies. In the end, Finau made Furyk’s job a downright no-brainer.

“[Tony] has an unbelievable body of work this year,” Furyk said. “All those top-10 finishes, the play in big championships and the majors, and then his current form: a second, a fourth and an eighth in the playoffs. He checked a lot of boxes and made it impossible not to pick him.

“Being the front-runner going into this week and being the guy I had my eye on – and the vice captains, too – to see him respond in that way, in difficult conditions, with a guy like Xander [Schauffele] playing so well, Tony went out there and played a bogey-free round with five birdies to finish eighth. All along, I’d talked about form and having a good season through the playoffs and being hot now.”

Finau has all of the tools. He is third on Tour in driving distance, 12th in greens in regulation and 11th in birdie average, a killer combination in a Ryder Cup. He can fill a lot of slots and can play five matches if he’s playing particularly well.

That’s unlike Mickelson, who at age 48, is likely to play no more than three matches at Le Golf National near Paris. His erratic play of late probably will mean that Mickelson will play only four-balls and Sunday singles. Mickelson’s defenders will say that his charismatic presence is needed in the team room. But the team has only three Ryder Cup rookies – Finau, DeChambeau and Justin Thomas, who is hardly a rookie – and Mickelson’s role in the team room would have been solved by making him a vice captain instead of David Duval.

“I can play with anyone,” Finau said. “I feel that my personality is just that way. I can bring the best out of different guys playing with them, and them the same to me. I’m pretty easy to play with. And I’m playing some good golf, some world-class golf. I’ve been able to play very confidently and consistently the last month or so to be able to get that pick.

“To add those skills to the team is something that’s going to be good for the team. I’ve played beneath a bright spotlight in the last month and responded well. I played like I always had something to prove. And I let the guys on the team know that I’d be a great pick and I’d be ready to go.”

Which is why Furyk is completely sold on his final pick.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf