Ryder Cup: Time running out for bubble boys to impress Captain Love
The final regular-season PGA Tour event takes place this week in Greensboro, N.C. -- the Wyndham Championship at the Donald Ross-designed Sedgefield Country Club.
Davis Love III is the tournament's defending champion. With that victory in 2015 at age 51, Love became the third-oldest winner in PGA Tour history and put him alongside Sam Snead and Ray Floyd as the only players ever to win PGA Tour events in four different decades.
Love, the 2016 Ryder Cup USA Captain, will be unable to defend his title this week as he continues to recover from a recent surgery on his left hip.
That, however, doesn't mean that Love won't be keeping a watchful eye on developments from Greensboro. Why? Because the Wyndham Championship is the next-to-last event for U.S. Ryder Cup hopefuls to collect precious points in a bid to make the 12-man team at Hazeltine National in late September that attempts to win the biennial matches for the first time since 2008.
WATCH: Get a first look at the uniforms the American team will wear at Hazeltine:
Points for the top-8 automatic qualifiers close on Sunday, August 28, at the conclusion of the FedExCup Playoffs opener, the Barclays at Bethpage Black.
As it stands now, the American team has Ryder Cup locks in the top-4 in the points standings: U.S. Open champ Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and PGA Champion Jimmy Walker.
Of the remaining eight players currently inside the top 12 -- Brooks Koepka (No. 5), Zach Johnson (6), J.B. Holmes (7), Patrick Reed (8), Brandt Snedeker (9), Bubba Watson (10), Matt Kuchar (11) and Rickie Fowler (12) -- only Holmes, Reed, Snedeker and Fowler are teeing it up at Sedgefield.
Watson and Kuchar just returned home from the Rio Olympics, where Kuchar picked up a bronze medal. Fowler was in Rio too, but felt it important to commit to Wyndham for the first time his career -- given his current ranking -- in a final push for a spot on what would be his third Ryder Cup team.
It could prove to be a wise decision for Fowler, whose lone top-10 on the PGA Tour since mid-May was a T10 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. His next-best finish over that stretch of time, seven starts total? A T33 at the PGA Championship.
Love has admitted repeatedly this summer that he isn't as focused on points as much as he's focused on form when it comes to his four Captain's selections. Fowler, no doubt, is hoping to take any decision out of Love's hands.
Reed, who was the fourth member of the U.S. Olympics team and the star of the American side in the 2014 Ryder Cup, has a terrific opportunity this week to lock up a spot in his second Ryder Cup. Reed's first of four PGA Tour victories came at Sedgefield in the 2013 Wyndham Championship.
Snedeker, who started the season red-hot with finishes of T3, a playoff defeat and a win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Sony Open in Hawaii and Farmers Insurance Open, respectively, in his first three starts of the calendar year, is also a former Wyndham Champion (though his victory came in 2007, the last time the tournament was Davis Love III-redesigned Forest Oaks).
Even if this week isn't a fruitful one points-wise for Fowler, Reed or Snedeker, Love will no doubt appreciate the decision to play.
The same can be said for J.B. Holmes who put himself firmly in the Ryder Cup picture thanks to a T4 at the Masters and a third-place finish in the Open Championship -- his only top-10 career finishes in the majors. And, with double Ryder Cup points available at the majors this season, what a time to play well.
Talk about taking advantage of two big opportunities.
Since the Open, Holmes has missed cuts in back-to-back starts at the PGA Championship and the Travelers. This week is a chance to get back on track.
As far as players with a lot to gain this week, keep an eye on this group of five (among this group only Piercy and Haas have a chance at cracking the top 8 with a victory in Greensboro depending on what the players ahead of them do at Wyndham):
1. Scott Piercy
Current rank: 13
Reason to watch: He's enjoyed a nice season on Tour with 10 top-25 finishes, including back-to-back runner-up outings in the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. However, two of his four missed cuts in 20 starts this year have come in his last two starts -- the Open and the PGA Championship. Those were huge missed opportunities with double points up for grabs. Should Piercy miss out on making the team via points, he's likely going to need a win to secure a spot.
2. Bill Haas
Current rank: 14
Reason to watch: It's amazing that this guy hasn't been on a Ryder Cup team yet. These last several years he seems to be just on the outside looking in. That said, he's proven to be a big-time factor in Presidents Cup play, securing the winning point in Korea last fall on a team captained by his father, Jay Haas, where Love was an assistant. He's put together a nice stretch of golf since the end of June, which has included a T3 at Quicken Loans National and a T9 at the Open -- his first career top 10 in a major.
3. Jim Furyk
Current rank: 18
Reason to watch: Furyk, already an assistant captain for Ryder Cup USA, has done nothing but impress Love since returning from time off due to injury. You want to talk about making an impression? How about a PGA Tour-best, 12-under 58 at the Travelers Championship in his last competitive round? A member of the last nine Ryder Cup USA teams, it's likely that the only way Furyk isn't playing at Hazeltine is if he asks Love not to pick him -- a scenario we can't envision. Love has said repeatedly that with players like Furyk, Koepka and Daniel Berger (No. 15 right now and not playing at Wyndham), he has to factor in what could have been points-wise if they hadn't missed time due to injury.
4. Jason Dufner
Current rank: 19
Reason to watch: More than once, Dufner has made his intentions known to Love -- he very much wants to be on the Ryder Cup team. A playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January got Love's attention. Since that victory, Dufner's had two top-10 finishes -- a T6 at Colonial and a T8 at the U.S. Open. There may be a feeling of loyalty there for Love since Dufner was a member of his 2012 team at Medinah (his only Ryder Cup appearance), but with the likes of Furyk, Fowler, Watson and Snedeker and Kuchar all ahead of Dufner in points and not currently occupying a top-8 position, Dufner is probably going to have to do something extraordinary between now and the end of the Tour Championship) to get the nod on a Captain's Pick.
5. Ryan Moore
Current rank: 23
Reason to watch: This, folks, is a wildcard and an incredibly intriguing player to watch in the coming weeks. Aside from being the Tour's most recent winner at last week's John Deere Classic (his fifth Tour win), Moore is also someone to consider because of his incredible amateur record in match play, which included two U.S. Amateur Public Links (2002, 2004) victories and the 2004 U.S. Amateur. He's a compelling player when you ponder what he could potentially do in match play. If he can ride the momentum from his latest victory with a couple more strong showings, Moore might just make his first Ryder Cup appearance at the end of September.
Here are some important dates to remember in the coming weeks:
- Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016: The top eight will be finalized at the conclusion of The Barclays, which is scheduled to finish on this date, as opposed to the traditional closing of points at the conclusion of the PGA Championship, which was played in July instead of August in 2016 due to the Olympics. It also affords players an additional two weeks from past years to earn a spot on points.
- Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016: Love will select three of his four Captain's Picks at the conclusion of the BMW Championship, scheduled to end on this day.
- Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016: Love will make his fourth and final Captain's Pick at the conclusion of the Tour Championship, scheduled to end on this day.