News & Opinion

Woods misses a gimme with Fowler pick

U.S. Presidents Cup captain snubs Brendon Todd, golf’s hottest player, in replacing injured Brooks Koepka

It’s unfortunate that Brooks Koepka had to withdraw from the Presidents Cup on Wednesday.

As the world’s No. 1-ranked player, Koepka clearly was the U.S. leader as the Americans prepare to make the trip Down Under for next month’s matches. For Koepka, 29, who is recovering from an injured left knee, the move was the correct one as he focuses on 2020 and adding to his four major championships.

What was not the right move – and could be called scandalous – was captain Tiger Woods’ total disregard for golf’s hottest player, Brendon Todd, who was snubbed for one of the Frat Pack, Rickie Fowler.

2019 Charles Schwab Challenge
Rickie Fowler should be well-rested for next month’s Presidents Cup.

It would be easy to suggest that I don’t like Fowler, which is why I have taken such a harsh approach, but that would be too simplistic.

Fowler has done little since his victory Feb. 3 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, recording only four top 10s after Phoenix. The newly married Fowler hasn’t even picked up a club in a professional event since he tied for 19th in the 30-man Tour Championship in late August.

Since winning nearly 10 months ago, Fowler slipped from No. 8 in the Official World Golf Ranking to No. 21. That’s hardly an indication of a game trending in the right direction.

Woods could have looked at the past two events on the PGA Tour and found the game’s hottest player for his team. Todd surged from No. 522 in the world to No. 83 after winning the inaugural Bermuda Championship and then last week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic. With victories in two countries, Todd clearly owns a game that travels well.

Early this month, Todd would not have been on anybody’s list to replace Koepka. But after his recent performance – an aggregate 44 under par in eight rounds – Todd deserved the nod.

Todd has no international match-play experience as a professional, but captains always talk about finding the hot player, and there is no question that Todd is scorching.

In the 2016 Ryder Cup, European captain Darren Clarke practically was forced to take Thomas Pieters after the young Belgian won the European Tour’s Made in Denmark event in late August, his third victory in 13 months.

Pieters was one of six rookies for Europe’s visit to Hazeltine National, and Clarke undoubtedly didn’t want to waste a pick on an inexperienced player, but Pieters was one of the game’s hottest hands. Everywhere Clarke turned, he was told to take Pieters.

Pieters went 4-1-0. Though the Europeans lost, 17-11, the outcome would have been much worse if not for Pieters and his team-high four points.

Current form matters, and Woods ignored that trait for what only can be considered mediocre.

In his international match-play history at the Ryder and Presidents cups, Fowler is 7-10-6. He hasn’t competed in three months. So, what are Woods and the U.S. team gaining by picking Fowler?

Todd might have been a wild card for Woods, but Kevin Na is not.

As a winner in Las Vegas during the new Tour season, Na ranks 26th in the world. He owns four victories overall, one fewer than Fowler.

Though Na isn’t quite as hot as Todd – then again, who is? – he posted rounds of 61 and 62 in Las Vegas. That’s a lot of birdies, and those low numbers tend to win in match play. He also ranks second in strokes gained putting this season.

Ultimately, Woods picked his friend. That’s his prerogative, but is it right?

I easily could say that time will tell whether the decision proves to be right. But whatever happens in Australia does not justify Woods’ pick.

Better players than Fowler will be sitting at home, and that’s the travesty of it, no matter how Fowler might perform.

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