Whistling Wild Cards: BMW Championship
In less than a month, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker will lead a group of 12 players into a high-stakes atmosphere at Whistling Straits. Currently only five of those 12 spots are officially spoken for, although the sixth and final automatic qualifier will be decided at this week’s BMW Championship. But half of Stricker’s roster won’t earn an auto bid – instead they’ll rely on a call from the captain telling them to suit up for Wisconsin.
While six players are still mathematically alive for moving into the No. 6 slot in the final week of qualification, several other decorated Americans are simply looking to catch Stricker’s eye as the PGA Tour’s postseason heats up. It’s a group that includes potential rookies, seasoned veterans, match-play maestros and everything in between.
Here’s a look at some of the notable players outside the current top 12 who could make an impression at Caves Valley. They’re all too far down in the standings to earn the sixth automatic spots that will be finalized Sunday, but a timely performance in Maryland just might be enough to sway Stricker as his 12-man roster begins to fill up:
Current points position: 13th
Analysis: With Harris English, Daniel Berger and Patrick Cantlay all in the mix for the final qualifying spot this week – and each looking relatively solid for a potential pick otherwise – Stricker’s team could boast as many as five rookies out of the first 11 players. That could create the need for a veteran presence like Simpson, who has played on three previous Ryder Cup teams and would be one of only a handful of players in the team room who knows what it’s like to play the matches on home soil. Simpson’s T-7 finish at Wyndham was a bit deceiving, given he missed a massive playoff by a single shot, but he failed to get much going last week at Liberty National. Last year Simpson was sixth in the world when he opted to skip the BMW Championship to rest up for the Tour Championship. Now down to No. 22 in the world and No. 52 in FedEx Cup points, he has no such luxury and likely needs a massive result this week – both to make East Lake and to boost his credentials in the eyes of the captain.
Current points position: 14th
Analysis: Is there still room for a risky selection? Scheffler has been rock solid all summer, but he would also be the first player since Rickie Fowler in 2010 to get picked for a U.S. Ryder Cup team before ever winning a PGA Tour event. Scheffler has shined in high-profile events this year, finishing second and fifth in a pair of WGC tournaments to go along with results of T-8 or better in each of the last three majors this year. But there’s no denying that his T-43 finish last week in New Jersey was untimely, given that it was just his second finish outside the top 15 since June. Scheffler played well last year at East Lake, and unlike others on this list he’s in strong position to qualify for the season finale. But he’ll likely want to bolster his case by showing Stricker that last week’s middling effort was the exception, not the rule.
Current points position: 18th
Analysis: Kisner is an example of how fast things can change as these matches approach. Two weeks ago he triumphed in a six-man playoff at the Wyndham Championship, leading many to speculate that he might be a prime candidate for a pick given his previous success in match-play events. But combine his dreadful performance at Liberty National with a timely win from Finau, and now suddenly it feels like there’s one fewer pick up for grabs and the 37-year-old may once again on the outside looking in. That could change this week, and Kisner does have both a flair for the dramatic and three top-10 finishes in his last six starts. But what he doesn’t have is the months-long consistency of players like Cantlay, Berger and others ahead of him in the standings. Kisner is currently 31st in FedEx Cup points, meaning he needs a solid showing to make the 30-man finale at East Lake. But he’ll need to put up something closer to spectacular over the next two weeks if he’s going to pry a pick away from some of the other players mentioned here.
Current points position: 19th
Analysis: Mickelson’s season nearly ended in abrupt fashion, as his missed cut at Liberty National dropped him from 58th all the way to 70th with only the top 70 advancing to this week’s no-cut event. It was yet another example of Lefty reaching for momentum in recent months, only to come up short. In the wake of his shocking PGA Championship win it seemed he needed to do very little more to ensure he made his 13th straight Ryder Cup appearance. But it has been an underwhelming summer, with just one finish inside the top 60 since Kiawah. Mickelson likely needs a top-5 finish to have a chance of making the Tour Championship, and it feels like that’s about what he needs to keep alive any hopes of heading to Whistling Straits next month as a player.