With top eight locked in, U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk says 'door is open' for final four spots
The 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team that will take on Europe outside Paris next month boasts competitors who captured three of this year’s four major championships, the reigning Players champion, the likely PGA Tour player of the year and all three of the three-time winners on the PGA Tour this season. The lone rookie, to this point, already has captured a major, too.
And if U.S. captain Jim Furyk needs any more good news, it’s this: His 12-man team is only two-thirds complete.
Monday morning at Bellerive Country Club, one day after the sizzling finish to the 100th PGA Championship, Furyk spoke about the eight players who earned berths onto the U.S. team via automatic points qualifying. He likes the way his team is shaping up ahead of the 42nd Ryder Cup, which will be played at Le Golf National in France Sept. 28-30.
“More than anything else, I'm excited,” Furyk said. “We talked a lot about the type of player we're looking for on this team and the atmosphere we're going into in Europe, the boisterous crowd; they have a great crowd. We talked about the team that they will have, which will be strong, and I wanted guys that really enjoy that atmosphere, and these eight guys, when I look at them, these are guys that enjoy that challenge.”
The eight who made the team via a points table compiled over the last two seasons (in 2017, points were earned at majors): Brooks Koepka, who at Bellerive on Sunday won his third major title; Dustin Johnson; Justin Thomas; Bubba Watson; Jordan Spieth; Rickie Fowler; and Webb Simpson. For the second consecutive major, significant points were up for grabs, but no player from outside the top 8 moved in. Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, who ranked ninth and 10th, missed the cut. Tiger Woods, runner-up to Koepka, made the biggest move. He jumped from 20th to 11th in the standings.
Furyk has three wild-card picks to add Sept. 4, and will fill out the team by naming his 12th player on Sept. 10, after the BMW Championship, the third of four FedEx Cup Playoff events.
Woods, who shot 64 on Sunday, his lowest Sunday round ever in a major, seems to be in a pretty solid position to shift his role on this team from assistant captain to player.
“I’m not sure the numbers are always that important when I look down the list," Furyk said. "What is important is how well Tiger has played. Sixth place at The Open Championship, a second place at the PGA. His game … I think the word he used is "trending." His game is trending. So it's great to see him playing well.”
Furyk already has some natural pairings built into his team. Spieth and Reed have made a formidable tandem in team play. Koepka and Johnson paired together at Hazeltine in 2016 and again at last year's Presidents Cup. Watson and Simpson have teamed in Ryder Cups. Thomas, the only Ryder Cup rookie among the top eight, and Fowler played alongside one another at the 2017 Presidents Cup, going 2-0-1.
As for those who finished just outside the top eight in points, some big weeks still remain. After this week’s Wyndham Championship, four FedEx Cup Playoff events remain, with Furyk filling out his team after the third one. Furyk will have his entire team in place and players will have an idea on pairings the week of the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.
As the captain says, the race for the next four spots is wide open.
“So the numbers, as we talked about, looking down the list, 9, 10, 11, 12, that's important, that's nice, but if a guy gets hot and starts playing well, he'll definitely catch the team's eye, he'll definitely catch the vice-captain's eye and mine,” Furyk said. “I’d say the door is open in a lot of respects, but we're still looking at this year and a body of work as well.”
Mickelson has played on every U.S. Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup team since he went 3-0 in the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill in New York. He’s 48, and this is the first time he failed to make a Ryder Cup team on points. Mickelson is in the mix for a captain’s pick alongside Woods, a few promising potential rookies (DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau) and a few veteran players (Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson) hanging inside the top 20. If some player outside the mix of current candidates should catch fire in the coming weeks (think Billy Horschel, 2014), then that player will garner heavy consideration to be part of this team. As Furyk says, the door is open.
The captain had a chance to speak with Mickelson after the left-hander missed the cut at Bellerive on Friday.
“His game has been in a pretty good position all year, and he’s putted great,” Furyk said. “He’s putted unbelievable, actually — only Jason Day is up there (ahead) on the putting stats. He’s working on a few things in his game. He was disappointed not to make the cut here, but it’s a long season. For some guys, we’re going to look at a body of work, for a year, for some guys we’re going to look at a hot player right now. Some guys we’re going to look at pairings and see how they fit into the team that we already have. What I’m really anxious to see is what we got.”
What Furyk has, at this point, is a nicely stacked team. And it will only get better in the weeks ahead. Which is good news for him, as the U.S. has not won the Ryder Cup on foreign soil since 1993.
On the European side, there was movement among the top eight on Sunday. Ian Poulter, who tied for 31st at Bellerive, moved ahead of Paul Casey on Europe’s world points list. Currently, the top eight among the two lists that Europe keeps are: Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood from the European points list, and Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Alex Noren and Poulter from the world list. Points will be accumulated through the European Tour’s Made in Denmark event, which ends Sept. 2. Captain Thomas Bjorn will announce his four captain’s picks on Sept. 5.
Furyk said in a news conference earlier in the week that his talented U.S. side is sure to have its hands full at Le Golf National.
“I think you’ve got a battle of two giants,” he said.