As the PGA Tour approaches the finale of its year long and newly-implemented wraparound season at The Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Georgia, there are 3 select groups of players that the golf world will be focusing on: Those trying to qualify as captain’s picks for the upcoming Ryder Cup matches at Hazeltine at the end of September, those trying to get themselves or remain in the top 5 of the FedEx Cup standings, and those trying to fight their way into the top 30 0f the standings, which would allow them to compete at East Lake starting September 25th. I’m here to take a look at these groups and make some predictions as to who I think will make their way to East Lake and the Ryder Cup.
Making the Push: Inside the Top 30
In regular tour events and major championships, the 3rd round is known as “moving day”, a day where players out of contention can put themselves in a very good spot heading into the final round and were those in contention could potentially choke. In the FedEx Cup era of the PGA Tour, the BMW Championship is the 3rd event in a series of 4 playoff events concluding with the Tour Championship at East Lake. For those at the top, it’s nearly impossible to fall down and out of the Top 5. For those sitting just inside the Top 70, well, this is their week. For example, in 2013, Morgan Hoffmann entered the playoffs ranked 123rd and shot 62-63 on the weekend to finish in a tie for 3rd and played his way into the Top 30 who make it to East Lake. On the other side, Hunter Mahan was inside the Top 30 going into the BMW Championship, finished dead last and still made it to East Lake. Then there’s the very unfortunate scenario that we’ve seen all too often: winning a lot during the regular season and coming up short of the year-long prize. Rory McIlroy won 4 events, 1 of them a major championship and 2 of them FedEx Cup playoff events, one of which was the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick. Brandt Snedeker overtook him to win the FedEx Cup that year. In 2011, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose played amazing during the regular season only to be overtaken by Bill Haas at East Lake, who was ranked 25th going into that week. Jason Day won 5 times on tour last year, but so did Jordan Spieth, one of which was the Tour Championship which allowed him to take the year-long $10 million dollar bonus. In 2014, Billy Horschel did this in his last 3 events (the column to the right of the event name shows the player’s finish that week):
He ended up winning the FedEx Cup.
It’s Rory McIlroy’s Year.
McIlroy recently captured his first victory of the season at the Deutsche Bank Championship, which is a story in itself. In his first 3 holes he was four-over par. His next 69 holes were played at nineteen-under. He shot a 65 to overcome a sizable deficit and win in Boston for the 2nd time. This victory was due to a reinvigorated putting stroke. McIlroy’s hot streaks come in bunches and this end to this season spells R-O-R-Y. He won at Crooked Stick in 2012 and I think his hot putting will carry him to a FedEx Cup title this year, destroying the hopes of the great years that Adam Scott, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Jordan Spieth have had.
On the Bubble: Outside the Top 30
Below is the list of 11 players inside the Top 70 going into the BMW Championship.
There is one name that stand out to me here: Luke Donald. This is a man who has won on tour many times, won both money titles on the PGA and European Tours in 2011, and has one of the most solid golf games in the world. He has been playing well as of late and played well at Crooked Stick back in 2012. If he can open with a solid round, don’t sleep on the Englishman going into the weekend.
Rounding Out the Line-Up: Ryder Cup Captain’s Picks
THIS is what golf fans all around the world want to know the most: Who does American captain Davis Love III plan on selecting for the additional four spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup squad? In my mind, there are 11 total potential candidates, 2 of which are obvious, 5 of which are right there in the points standings, and 4 of which could be selected based on history, results this year, or even recent success. Whoever wins the BMW Championship this week will definitely be on the hot seat for a spot. But for these 11 guys, let’s get to it.
The Obvious Choices: Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson
These two are some of the most dynamic players in professional golf. Both having great seasons so far, they provide emotional sparks to the squad and a lot of heart to the American side. in a combined 5 Ryder Cups, the duo has gone a poor 3-6-2 combined record in Ryder Cup matches, but the meat is not always in the numbers. Fowler won the last 4 holes to halve his match against Eduardo Molinari in 2010 during the singles matches and put up a formidable fight with Jimmy Walker in all 4 four-man matches last year. Bubba sparked the United States side by hitting his first tee shots with the crowed cheering in the background in 2012 at Medinah and nearly came back from a four-down deficit, which included a chip-in on the 16th hole, against Luke Donald. These two are ranked 9th and 11th respectively on the U.S. team standings, so it is my hope that they would get there worth rewarded.
Points-Based: Matt Kuchar, Bill Haas, Jim Furyk, J.B. Holmes, and Daniel Berger
Ranked 10th, 14th, 15th, 10th, and 16th respectively, all five of these players have had accomplished seasons and have solid cases for a potential pick. They were all very close to automatically qualifying for the team, so why not them? Matt Kuchar, recent Olympic bronze medalist, has a distinguished Ryder Cup and Presidents cup record, and an obviously qualified match play competitor as he won a U.S. Amateur title back in 1997. Bill Haas played a pivotal role as a captain’s pick at the most recent President’s Cup, securing the final point which allowed the U.S. to retain the cup. Jim Furyk recently shot the lowest round in PGA Tour history at the Travelers Championship by recording a 58 in his 3rd round. Already the holder of a 59 as well, Furyk is a proven match play competitor and can clearly make a lot of birdies in bunches. J.B. Holmes, a Ryder Cup teammate in 2008 when the United States’ most recent win at the Ryder Cup was, proved himself during the most recent President’s Cup, and being a long hitter goes a long way at Hazeltine. Lastly, Daniel Berger has won already and has a few close calls this season. Being a young gun with a fearless golf game will take him far in future pressure situations. All of these make sense to me, but if I had to to pick one, I’d pick Matt Kuchar. He’s in form and will be a veteran on that team.
Based on History and Potential: Jason Dufner, Ryan Moore, Keegan Bradley, and Justin Thomas
On a very young U.S. team, any one of these four could bring a lot of game to an already talented team. Jason Dufner had a lot of success at Medinah in 2012, and a recent spark of form could make him a good candidate. Ryan Moore recently won on tour by shooting three straight 65’s, proving he can go low when needed. Moore is also a proven match play workhorse, as he won the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Public Links, and Western Amateur all in one year in 2004. Keegan Bradley was the young gun on a 2012 team that was overcome by a charge by the Europeans on the last day. Justin Thomas’s youth could come in handy and could work with many teammates in a potential duo during the matches. Ranked 25th in points, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see him get a pick. If you’re asking me to pick one, I’d choose Keegan. He was a captain’s pick in 2014 and made his mark by pairing with Phil Mickelson again to a successful fourball match win.
If you asked me to pick from these 11, I’d tell you Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, and Bill Haas. They all have the game and the attitude to be an asset on and off the course and could help the Americans win their first Ryder Cup in 8 years.
Photos from Getty Images, PGATour.com