In the week that sees Northern Irishman Darren Clarke make his three captain picks to complete the European line-up for the 2016 Ryder Cup, US captain Davis Love III has seen two-thirds of his US team finally nailed down.
With scores for the competition having been accumulated over the past two years, the first eight places in the squad were finally confirmed after Sunday’s closing round of The Barclays at Bethpage Black. The main drama came late in the day when Zach Johnson, who finished his round believing he had not done enough to cement a place, benefitted from the back-nine mini-collapse of Rickie Fowler with the former ultimately retaining eighth place, and the final automatic qualifying position.
The eight players through already form quite a formidable line-up. Current and former major winners Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson and, of course, the great Phil Mickelson are flanked by Brooks Kopeka, Brandt Snedeker and The Barclays winner (and chief shusher) Patrick Reed.
An interesting strategic feature of almost every Ryder Cup selection process sees an extra wildcard pick available to the US captain. Whereas the first nine men in the Ryder Cup points race secured a place for the Europeans, Davis Love III has a further squad berth to decide upon. We could easily give too much consideration to whether having one extra captain’s pick is advantageous or just another unnecessary head-scratcher, however it could well become a moot point if he picks the unlucky ninth man, Bubba Watson.
With three of the four picks to be finalised on September 12th, the day after the BMW Championship, and the final player during halftime of NBC’s Sunday night game on September 25th, after the Tour Championship, the performance of golfers who are ‘on the bubble’ will come into sharp focus over the coming weeks.
It seems very likely that a five man group will be at the head of affairs in vying for the final four places. Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, JB Holmes, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk (a vice captain) will all be trying to catch the eye in the final three Fed Ex Cup Playoff events – up to, and including, the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club.
The safe money would be on both Bubba and Rickie taking a place. Others may make a late rally for consideration – Justin Thomas, for example, could catch the eye and we may see the ‘moustachioed duo’ being both involved; maybe even playing a fourball together. What a sight that would be! It remains to be seen whether Furyk’s inclusion as a vice captain is relevant when it comes to Davis Love III making his final decisions.
He will want to avoid a fourth straight defeat for the US and, possibly more importantly, seek to exorcise the demons of the Miracle of Medinah in 2012 – when he also captained the side. Both teams will have their flaws as well as an undoubted abundance of talent. In order to see them wrestle the trophy back from greedy European clutches, Davis Love III must lead from the front and make his team selection decisions count if he is to achieve the redemption he so desperately craves.
What a tournament we have in prospect!