A very hearty thank you to friend of TG, and a man of considerable influence, JayV for going through the effort of writing this comprehensive review.

I don’t envy Corey Pavin.  In the next few weeks, he is charged with making the decisions as to who will be the four captain’s picks for the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup Team.  It has been a long time since a captain has had so many worthy selections to choose from, and there are going to be a lot of good players sitting at home.  We’ll do our best to decipher the situation that currently faces Pavin.

Much was made of Paul Azinger’s decision to change the selection process for the victorious 2008 U.S. Team.  Azinger made adjustments to the process that limited off-year points to only the majors, and also slimmed down the automatic qualifiers from 10 to 8.  Many analysts acted as if these changes were the major contributing factor to the Americans’ success.  In reality, Azinger’s tinkering only kept one player off the squad: Woody Austin.  He and Hunter Mahan would have been the 9th and 10th qualifiers under the old qualifying scheme, and Mahan was a captain’s selection anyway.  If all these analysts think that the inclusion of J.B. Holmes or Boo Weekley over Austin was the main reason for the Yanks’ success…well, that’s just absurd.

However, the adjusted process is likely to have an even bigger factor in 2010, as it very well may turn out to be the thing that keeps Tiger Woods off the team.  Under the pre-2008 process, Woods would already be a lock based on the points he would have earned during his 2009 campaign.  Not so under the new system.

The Locks

Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Jeff Overton, & Anthony Kim

The current top 6 on the Ryder Cup points list appear safe heading into the PGA Championship.  Mickelson and Furyk bring a ton of experience to the table, with 13 appearances among them…Mahan’s win at Firestone this past weekend vaulted him into the top 6, and will be his 4th straight appearance on a national team, but his first as an automatic qualifier…Stricker will also be making his 4th straight national team appearance, and has been outstanding in his last appearances…Kim performed well in tandem with Mickelson at the 2008 Ryder Cup, and, based on his results, is a deserving selection.  But he is also coming off a wrist injury that kept him out of action throughout the summer; his return performance in Ohio this past weekend was near the bottom of the field.  As such, he figures to be somewhat of a question mark for Pavin’s squad…Overton is the lone Ryder Cup rookie among the six locks.  I question the impact Overton will have on the team, given his temperamental nature, and tendency to recede when asked to close the deal.  Overton has been outstanding in playing his way on to the team this summer, but I feel as if though he’ll mainly be an afterthought at Celtic Manor.

In For Now, But Will They Stay There

Matt Kuchar & Lucas Glover

Both would be Ryder Cup rookies.  Kuchar has been consistent throughout his 2010 season, and had he picked up a victory, would likely have achieved lock status.  Instead, his hold on automatic qualification is tenuous.  With a ton of points at stake at Whistling Straits this weekend, both he & Glover likely will need strong finishes to keep their spot on the squad.  That said, I believe that Kuchar has likely done enough to impress Pavin, and will likely be a captain’s selection regardless…I’m not sure that the same can be said for Glover.  His spot on the team is mainly attributable to his 2009 US Open win, and subsequent top 5 finish at the 2009 PGA.  Other than a strong finish at Sawgrass, his 2010 has mostly been forgettable.  Should he lose his automatic spot, I find it hard to believe that he would be a captain’s selection.  That would be déjà vu for the former Clemson Tiger, who entered the 2006 PGA as a qualifier, fell out of the top 10, and was then passed over by Tom Lehman as a captain’s selection.

A Likely Captain’s Selection

Stewart Cink

Cink has played on the last 8 national teams, including 4 consecutive Ryder Cup teams, and that was before he entered the club of major champions with his triumph at Turnberry last year.  He hasn’t had a very good 2010 season, with just 3 top 10s, but still sits 14th on the Ryder Cup points list, putting himself in good position to play his way on to the team with a strong week at the PGA.  I don’t think that will matter, he simply has too much experience to pass up, and seems to be in line for a certain nod from Pavin.

That Guy Named Eldrick

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods has looked like anything but a Ryder Cupper during his recent play, but he still sits 10th on the points list, and could easily play his way on the team.  Theoretically, as little as a 12th place finish could do the job, and a top 5 finish will almost assuredly accomplish it.  If that happens, it seems obvious that he will play.  But if he doesn’t?  That is a huge question mark.  Unless he is a near miss this weekend (e.g. finishes top 10, but doesn’t reach automatic qualification), I see Tiger taking himself out of the running, and making things easier on Pavin.

Guys Near The Bubble

Dustin Johnson, Ricky Barnes, Ben Crane, Bo Van Pelt, Sean O’ Hair, Nick Watney, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, & J. B Holmes

This list comprises those golfers that sit 9 thru 19 on the points list (excluding Cink & Woods), and will likely be those from whom Pavin will make his remaining captain’s selections; additionally, of course, a strong finish in the PGA would vault any of them onto the team as an automatic qualifier.  Johnson is probably the closest to being assured a spot.  It wouldn’t take that much for him to pass Glover for the last assured spot, and his performance the past two seasons, as well as his prodigious length off the tee, make him a viable captain’s selection.  The only black mark for his candidacy may be his meltdown in the final round at Pebble Beach this year…Barnes came out of nowhere to finish 2nd at the 2009 US Open, and has continued with strong play this year.  Additionally, he has proven himself in the match-play format with his 2002 US Amateur triumph over Hunter Mahan.  Still, I am not crazy about using a captain’s selection on a player who has yet to win a tour event.

Surprisingly, Ben Crane has yet to play on a national team.  His 2010 season has been outstanding, but he has been a non-factor in the majors, where he could have picked up valuable points.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see him play his way onto the team this weekend, and he may have to; he’s not the most popular guy among his fellow competitors, and that may be enough to dissuade Pavin from pulling the trigger…Van Pelt vaulted up a few more notches with strong play at Firestone, and could be primed for a big weekend in Wisconsin.  He’s had a solid 2010 season, and has a steady game reminiscent of Pavin’s; might that help sway him as a captain selection?  We’ll see…

O’Hair certainly had a chance to lock down a slot this past weekend, but gave it away on Sunday.  O’ Hair is magnificent from tee-to-green, but the flat stick has prevented him from vaulting to the level of superstar.  For me, that’s a problem that makes him a very shaky selection…Watney has had a solid 2010, that includes top 10s at Augusta & St. Andrew’s, but hasn’t finished in the top 3 at the tournament.  I happen to believe that will change this weekend, and I think the former Fresno State Bulldog will play his way onto the team…Fowler is very much the “X factor” on this list: he’s young, he’s brash, he’s got the hair!  The prevailing school of thought has him as the next big thing in American golf, and he’s come close to fulfilling those expectations this season.  Again, as with Barnes, I’d be a bit hesitant about using a captain’s selection on a winless player, but Fowler might very well be the exception this rule…

Holmes and Watson are pretty much the two biggest bombers on tour; Watson earned his first win on tour this season, while Holmes was a important part of the 2008 team at Valhalla in his home state of Kentucky.  Reading into some of what Pavin has said, it seems likely that at least one of these two will be a captain’s selection.  The experience at Valhalla might be enough to sway Pavin towards Holmes.

The Rest

Pretty much every other American golfer entered in the PGA Championship

Given that 2600 points await the winner, all but the club pros and a handful of others would likely earn an automatic spot on the team with a win.  There are certainly plenty capable, including former Ryder Cuppers Zach Johnson, Kenny Perry, Scott Verplank, Chad Campbell, and Boo Weekley.  For a few of those, as well as young upstarts like Ryan Moore, Ryan Palmer, and Bill Haas, a 2nd or 3rd place finish (worth 1620 and 1020 points could do the trick.  As for captain’s selections from this group, it’s conceivable that Pavin could select one of the former Ryder Cuppers (throw Justin Leonard and Ben Curtis in the mix if you want) if they display strong play in the next 3 weeks, but I wouldn’t count on any but possibly Zach Johnson meriting any strong consideration.  Still, with 2600 points to be had, someone as low on the points list as George McNeill (88th) could find his way onto the team with an unexpected result.

My predictions

Mickelson, Mahan, Furyk, Stricker, Overton, Kim, Watney, D.Johnson, Cink, Kuchar, Fowler, Holmes