Ryder Cup: Five burning questions with the FedExCup Playoffs upon us
There are a couple of intriguing elements at play this week in the Barclays at Bethpage Black.
For starters, it's the last official event for U.S. players to collect all-important Ryder Cup points. Points close Sunday evening, at which time the eight automatic qualifiers will be finalized.
Next is the fact that the tournament is being played on a major championship course in Bethpage Black, which played host to the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Open and will also host the 2019 PGA Championship and 2024 Ryder Cup.
With that, here are five burning questions relating to how the FedExCup Playoffs can impact the Ryder Cup.
5. Can Rickie Fowler snap out of his funk at Bethpage Black?
This summer hasn't been the best for Fowler. His missed cut at the Players Championship, where he was defending champion, was the first of three consecutive missed cuts. And, in six starts since the Players, Fowler's best finish is a T10 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Other than that, his T22 at last week's Wyndham Championship is as good as it gets.
That said, Fowler may have found something to build on in Greensboro. It was the first time since the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and just the second time this season that he managed to record four straight rounds in the 60s.
Currently No. 12 in the U.S. standings, Fowler can play his way onto the team with a two-way tie for fourth or better. The last time he finished that high in a Tour event was at the beginning of May in the Wells Fargo Championship.
While Love would be delighted to have Fowler on the team -- a young player who commands the respect of many of his elders -- you get the feeling if he isn't going to make the team on points he's going to have to prove to Love that he's deserving.
A solid week on a course the caliber of Bethpage Black -- even if it doesn't mean qualifying on points -- could go a long way.
4. Which potential Ryder Cup USA Captain's Pick will most impress at Bethpage Black?
Jim Furyk. And that's not to say that he won't win the Barclays at Bethpage Black because he very well could. The chances of Furyk winning, however, aren't likely based on recent history. Since an epic 2010 season where he was a three-time winner, including the Tour Championship to take home the FedExCup Trophy, Furyk's lone victory on the PGA Tour was the 2015 RBC Heritage.
A win at the Barclays is the only scenario in which Furyk can make the top 8 on points.
It's well-documented that Furyk missed a lot of point-getting opportunities at the start of the 2015-16 season as he recovered from injury. But his body of work since his return to a pretty regular schedule is impressive.
Furyk's best finish this season, a T2 at the U.S. Open, combined with a T5 at the Travelers (where he shot a final-round, 12-under 58 -- the lowest score in PGA Tour history) and a T10 at the Wyndham Championship have propelled him to No. 15 in the latest Ryder Cup USA standings.
A veteran of nine Ryder Cups -- on paper and all things considered (injury/recovery) -- the 46-year-old Furyk has already proven himself worthy of a Captain's Pick from Davis Love III. This week is a chance to simply drive that point home.
3. Which European players in the field at the Barclays will be the toughest matchups at Hazeltine?
Of the nine Europeans who have already qualified for the Ryder Cup team, only Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy are at the Barclays (Sergio Garcia and Masters champ Danny Willett were eligible, but are not playing this week).
So, it's a pretty simple answer: All three will prove to be tough match ups at Hazeltine.
Stenson, coming off an epic victory over Phil Mickelson at the Open Championship is riding high on confidence and already boasts a 5-4-2 record in Ryder Cup play.
Rose is also on cloud 9 after winning gold in the Rio Olympics. His Ryder Cup record is a tremendous 9-3-2.
For his part, McIlroy is looking to turn around an otherwise forgetful season. That could be scary at the Ryder Cup -- a man with something to prove -- where he's 6-4-4 in three matches.
Any U.S. squad that draws any one of these three players -- let alone two of them at the same time -- will have their hands full.
2. Which player can pull a "2014 Billy Horschel?"
OK. So, this question doesn't apply strictly to this week/tournament, seeing as Horschel missed the cut at the 2014 Barclays.
But after that, Horschel rattled off a T2 at the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship before winning the Tour Championship and the FedExCup. The only problem in regards to the Ryder Cup? The U.S. team -- and the Captain's Picks -- had already been decided before Horschel's late-season surge.
As part of the change to the U.S. process this time around, the final Captain's Pick won't be made until the conclusion of the Tour Championship to avoid a situation like what happened with Horschel, where arguably the world's hottest player misses out.
Back to the question: Who pulls a Billy Horschel this year?
It could just be Horschel himself... In 2014, he entered the Playoffs at No. 69 in the FedExCup standings. This year, he's two spots better at No. 67.
How cool a story would that be? "Billy Horschel pulls a Billy Horschel, earns Captain's Pick."
1. Which American players in the field at the Barclays are most likely to be back at Bethpage Black to compete in the Ryder Cup in 2024?
Jordan Spieth (he'll be 31 years old in 2024), Dustin Johnson (40), Rickie Fowler (35), Justin Thomas (31), Tony Finau (35), Patrick Reed (34) and Phil Mickelson (54)...
OK. Just kidding on Mickelson... I think. But, given how much he loves the area and the fact that he won the 2005 PGA Championship just down the road at Baltusrol, there's a good chance we could see Captain Mickelson at Bethpage in 2024.