Top 8 spots solidified for U.S. Ryder Cup team

After two years of accumulating points, eight automatic U.S. Ryder Cup team berths were finalized at the conclusion of the 94th PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course. Among the players to earn an automatic spot were No. 1 point-getter Tiger Woods and at No. 8, snagging the final position, new U.S. Ryder Cup appearance record holder Phil Mickelson.

By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com Interactive Producer

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- As Rory McIlroy ran away with an eight-shot victory in the 94th PGA Championship at The Ocean Course on Sunday, there was another story unfolding for fans of American golf: Which eight players would secure an automatic bid on the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup Team?

Bo Van Pelt began the week at No. 15. In the end he posed the only threat to the top-8. Van Pelt had a chance to knock No. 8 Phil Mickelson out of an automatic spot, but slipped down the leaderboard in the final round with bogeys on three of his final five holes for a disappointing 2-over 74.

Van Pelt finished the PGA Championship in a tie for 18th and moved up four spots to No. 11 in the final standings, three shy of the spot he wanted, but perhaps enough to garner the attention of U.S. Captain Davis Love III, who will make his four captain's picks on Tuesday, Sept. 4. That will round out the team that heads to Medinah Country Club Sept. 28-30, to face Captain Jose Maria Olazabal's European side.

So who's in for the U.S.?

1. Tiger Woods (seventh appearance)
2. Bubba Watson (second appearance)
3. Jason Dufner (debut)
4. Keegan Bradley (debut)
5. Webb Simpson (debut)
6. Zach Johnson (third appearance)
7. Matt Kuchar (second appearance)
8. Phil Mickelson (U.S.-record ninth appearance)

Bradley, the 2011 PGA Champion, was on the outside looking in until all but assuring himself a spot with his victory at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone two weeks ago. He secured his spot, officially, on Sunday.

Bradley was second only to Woods in terms of top finishers in the U.S. top 8 at the PGA Championship. He tied for 10th in his title defense, while Woods finished tied for sixth.

"Ryder Cup means everything," said Bradley, who along with Dufner and Simpson will be making his Ryder Cup debut. "It's going to be a real challenge for me that week to stay calm and not get too excited.  It's a great event. I can't wait to play."

Bradley actually attended the 1999 matches at Brookline Country Club as a spectator. He's eager to see the other side of the ropes come late September.

"Yeah, I went to the '99 Ryder Cup," he said. "Greatest sporting event I've ever been to, so I'm really looking forward to it."

All eight qualifiers have won at least one time in 2012 and account for 12 wins overall this season, highlighted by Woods with three and Dufner and Johnson with two apiece.

Watson, of course, won the Masters in April, while Kuchar won The Players in May and Simpson took the U.S. Open in June.

"It means a lot," said Watson when asked about being an automatic qualifier. "Any time you can put the stars and stripes on your sleeve and play some golf, this is the closest I'll get to the military, so for me it's about representing our country and playing some golf and hopefully win it. But all in all, just like the athletes in the Olympics, all you're trying to do is represent your country well and show people some exciting golf."

The only question remaining is: Who will Love look to with his picks?

Hunter Mahan finished the point-getting period in ninth, despite winning twice in 2012, including the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. He'll certainly get a look.

Ryder Cup veterans Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk finished at No. 10 and No. 11, respectively. Both those players have been past playing partners of Woods in the Ryder Cup.

Numbers 12-15 go like this: Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, Bo Van Pelt and Dustin Johnson. Impressively, Van Pelt is the only player in the top 15 of the final standings, who hasn't won on Tour this season. He is, however, tied with Kuchar's for most top 10s this year at eight.

Love has plenty of depth to choose from, but we won't know which way he's going with his picks until Sept. 4.