Bubble Watch: THE NORTHERN TRUST
The Ryder Cup is now just over one month away, which means that we have entered the home stretch for automatic qualification for spots on U.S. captain Steve Stricker’s roster. Only two events remain for players to earn points, with the top six players after next week’s BMW Championship punching their tickets to Whistling Straits.
Last week Open champ Collin Morikawa became the first player to officially clinch an automatic spot on the team, while No. 2 Dustin Johnson joined him on the official roster this week. There’s a significant gap for the next three spots, with No. 5 Justin Thomas more than 2,000 points ahead of No. 6 Xander Schauffele (with Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka both comfortably ahead of Thomas).
With players earning 1.5 points per $1,000 earned over the next two weeks, the race could come down to who can lay claim to the sixth and final automatic qualifying spot. Here’s a look at four players with aspirations to do just that, all of whom are in the field this week as the PGA Tour’s postseason begins at Liberty National for the 124-man Northern Trust:
Current points position: 6th
Analysis: The Olympic gold medalist is still in good shape, but Spieth is hot on his heels. Schauffele lost some ground two weeks ago in Memphis, where he finished T-46 in a limited-field event. His win in Tokyo may not have counted for Ryder Cup points purposes but it likely validated Schauffele’s efforts amid a consistent season that until then had included a number of close calls. He missed the cut when this event was held here two years ago, but seems unlikely to repeat that result given his recent six straight cuts since a surprisingly early exit at the PGA Championship in May.
Current points position: 7th
Points outside of qualification: 118
Analysis: While it seems likely that both Schauffele and Spieth will be on the team next month, the margin is razor-thin to determine which one won’t require a pick. Spieth’s resurgent season included a win in San Antonio and a runner-up finish at The Open, and he shined four years ago at Liberty National while helping the Americans to a Presidents Cup win. His T-12 finish in Memphis was his fifth straight top-20 and his ninth such result in his last 10 starts. Another similar showing this week could be enough to push him past Schauffele and into automatic qualifying position heading into the final week.
Current points position: 8th
Points outside of qualification: 1,054
Analysis: English let a golden opportunity slip away at TPC Southwind, when he stumbled down the stretch and failed to close out a chance for a wire-to-wire victory. It would have been his third PGA Tour win of the year, a plateau no player has reached thus far in 2021, and would have been a big boost to his candidacy as he looks to represent the U.S. in a team event for the first time as a pro. Last year English finished solo second at the playoff opener, and a similar result this time around could potentially draw him even with Schauffele and Spieth heading into next week’s BMW Championship with an automatic qualifying spot hanging in the balance.
Current points position: 9th
Points outside of qualification: 1,545
Analysis: Reed likely needs to win this week to have a chance at a spot in the top 6, but that’s hardly out of the question when it comes to the playoff opener and Reed’s history with the event. Reed captured the first postseason event in 2016 when it was held at Bethpage Black, then added another victory three years later on this very course. Reed was a late scratch last week at the Wyndham and hasn’t cracked the top 20 since the U.S. Open in June, something he will need to do in short order to have any chance of qualifying automatically. But he has typically raised the level of his game at this juncture of the season and few can doubt the pride he takes when offered a chance to represent his country, as evidenced by his 11th-hour trip to last month’s Olympics. He’ll likely make a strong push over the coming weeks as Stricker looks to finalize his roster.