x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Destiny lies in the cards for US Ryder Cup team

Team captain Davis Love III has some tough choices ahead for his two wild-card picks writes John McAuley.

Dustin Johnson is among the several players who could figure into one of the two wild-card picks captain Davis Love III has for the US Ryder Cup team.
Dustin Johnson is among the several players who could figure into one of the two wild-card picks captain Davis Love III has for the US Ryder Cup team.

When in 2008 Paul Azinger implemented a change to the qualifying system for the United States Ryder Cup team, the decision was heralded as both long overdue and crucially important.

The US faced the ignominy of four successive defeats to Europe and Azinger knew increasing his captain's picks from two to four would allow an additional three weeks to consider his selection.

In using the first two FedEx Cup play-off events as an audition, he could choose players at the top of their game going into that clash at Valhalla, Kentucky.

His faith proved well founded.

Wild cards went to Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan, JB Holmes and Chad Campbell, and that group contributing more than half of America's points as they celebrated victory for the first time in nine years. Azinger was extolled as the game changer.

Four years on, though, Davis Love III could curse his compatriot. The current US captain would have always known his remit included making tough calls. However, he would not have envisaged the dilemma facing him Monday night.

For his four wild-card spots, to be confirmed Tuesday, seven professionals can conceivably present an argument for their entitlement to inclusion in this month's match-up at Medinah in Illinois.

With the top eight in the rankings having qualified automatically, Love could opt for the easy way out and promote Mahan, Stricker, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler - the next four in the standings going into last night's final round at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

No gripes there. Only that would mean awkward phone calls to Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney.

Snedeker can point to victory this season at Torrey Pines, contending in July's British Open, or the fact he is, statistically, currently the best putter on the PGA Tour - a key component in any Ryder Cup.

Johnson, though, has the power - he is second only to Bubba Watson in driving distance this year - and requisite skill to warrant a place, and could claim that, if it wasn't for injury delaying his season until April, he would already have booked his seat on the plane to Chicago.

"I really want to make that Ryder Cup team," he said on Sunday, having moved into a tied third at TPC Boston. "That's a big goal for me. I really think I would be a good asset to the team."

Or what about Watney?

The affable Californian, enduring a season to forget until last week when he won The Barclays and answered Love's call for a player "to get hot" and force his way into the reckoning.

Yet Watney, 31, looks likely to miss out. Judging by statements after last month's US PGA Championship, Love appears to have players locked into positions nine and 10: Furyk and Stricker.

"You obviously want some experience," said Love at Kiawah Island. "You're not going to pick four guys that have never played Ryder Cup before.

"There's no set formula to make it. It's whoever's hot, and obviously we'll lean towards experience."

Furyk is a cup veteran who at 42 has featured in seven American teams, while Stricker, 45, was a member of the past two sides and dovetails perfectly with Tiger Woods, his predicted partner.

That leaves a couple of free slots, and five into two does not go. Fowler, besides his obvious artistry, is regarded as the tour's bright, young thing, integral to encouraging a generation of teenagers to the game.

The PGA of America runs the Ryder Cup and, although out of form, Fowler's attendance would be greatly appreciated.

Then there is Mahan, whose striking reversal of fortunes saw him finish just outside the automatic spots, despite earlier in the season winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play and Houston Open.

"The last couple of weeks, I've tried not to think about it," he said.

"I've tried to relax and play, and I don't feel that's me. I need to accept it and get excited about it."

The countdown to Love's announcement is obviously affecting those in contention, yet Woods insists his captain's headache is a good one to have.

"It's nice we have some depth, and some young talent to choose from, and some guys playing well, too," he said.

Love, tasked with dashing the hopes of three potential troops for the biennial battle, may not completely agree.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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