Whistling Wild Cards: WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational
In less than two months, U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker will lead a group of 12 players into a high-stakes atmosphere at the scenic Whistling Straits. Currently none of those 12 spots are officially spoken for, although the automatic qualifiers will begin to take shape in the coming weeks. 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.
Four weeks remain in the automatic qualifying points race, with the six-pack of captain’s picks coming after next month’s Tour Championship. But as the race to make the team heats up, there are a number of players with Ryder Cup aspirations: 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 a move this week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and catch the eye of the captain as the biennial matches approach:
Current points position: 13th
Previous Ryder Cup teams: 2012, 2014, 2018
Analysis: The last time the PGA Tour touched down in Memphis, Simpson finished T-12 and left town as the fourth-ranked player in the world. It’s been a relatively lean year since, as the former U.S. Open champ has dropped to 16th in the world rankings and hasn’t quite been the same since withdrawing from the Wells Fargo Championship in May with a neck injury. While Simpson has yet to play on a winning team, missing the 2016 matches at Hazeltine, he has been viewed as an important team-room presence in years prior and could be an asset in acclimating talented rookies-in-waiting like Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele. Can he flash enough form to get a pick from Stricker? A T-19 at The Open showed some promise, and this is a course where he went toe-to-toe with Brooks Koepka two years ago en route to a runner-up finish.
Current points position: 17th
Previous Ryder Cup teams: 1995, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018
Analysis: Just take a look at that line above. Lefty hasn’t missed a U.S. Ryder Cup team in a quarter century, and now his candidacy includes “reigning PGA Champion.” But Mickelson’s surprising win at Kiawah hasn’t been the watershed he’d hoped, as his five subsequent starts have not produced anything better than a T-61 finish at the Travelers Championship. Given his rich history with this event, ability to stir the home crowd and general gamesmanship in a match-play environment, it could be tough for Stricker to find six players to pick ahead of Mickelson. But a little form will go a long way toward making that decision a bit easier, and this is a great place to turn it around given his record at TPC Southwind features three different runner-up finishes, including last year in 2020.
Current points position: 20th
Previous Ryder Cup teams: None
Analysis: When Zalatoris finished second in his Masters debut this spring, continuing a torrid ascent to the top of the game across this season, he seemed a likely candidate to make his Ryder Cup debut at Whistling Straits. But he’s since cooled off at the wrong time, as the summer has been a struggle with no top-25s in five starts since the PGA Championship. His most recent effort ended abruptly, as a shot out of thick rough at Royal St. George’s led to a withdrawal from The Open after an opening-round 69. At this point, he seems to have ceded significant ground to Scottie Scheffler (14th in points), if Stricker is looking for a promising rookie who has yet to win on the PGA Tour. This week could be a chance for Zalatoris to pop back up in the conversation and show that the injury he suffered in the UK won’t be an issue in the coming weeks.
Current points position: 23rd
Previous Ryder Cup teams: None
Analysis: So this one is admittedly a bit of a curve ball, given that Woodland isn’t in the field in Memphis. Instead he’ll tee it up at the Barracuda Championship in Tahoe, a tournament he won back in 2013. Woodland has won a major since the last Ryder Cup was played, and after battling health issues for several months appears to be trending back in the right direction: fifth this year at Quail Hollow, T-14 at Colonial and a T-11 finish at the 3M Open in his most recent start. Given the talented options ahead of him in the standings – and the fact that he won’t receive any Ryder Cup points for his performance this week along Lake Tahoe – Woodland is a decided outsider to make the squad. But his length would assuredly be an asset on a course like Whistling Straits, and he helped the U.S. to a Presidents Cup win in Australia two years ago. Could another win in the mountain air position him for a playoff push that could put him on Stricker’s radar?