Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson and Rickie Fowler. No surprises from Corey Pavin — surprise!
On Tuesday morning at the New York Stock Exchange, American Ryder Cup team captain Pavin and his assistant captains gathered to announce the four wildcard picks that will join the eight players already qualified, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Jeff Overton, Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, and Dustin Johnson, in Wales next month.
Pavin opted for experience to round out a team that already included four rookies (Watson, Kuchar, Johnson and Overton). Tiger was the obvious choice as the No. 1 player in the world. Although he hasn’t won in 11 starts this season (the longest stretch in his career), his play has improved in the past few starts, including a tied for 11th finish on Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He hasn’t played on a team since 2006 because he was still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery in 2008 when Team USA upset Europe at Valhalla in Kentucky. This will be Tiger’s sixth appearance at the Ryder Cup, but the first as a captain’s pick.
On the phone, Tiger said, “It’s great to be a part of this team. I’m honored to be selected and head over to Wales to represent the USA in the Ryder Cup.” (Somewhere Jim Gray is smiling.)
Stewart Cink, the 2009 British Open champion, will be playing in his fifth Ryder Cup. Even though he hasn’t had the best season, he’s finished in the top-20 in his last four starts. He brings experience and leadership to the underdog American team.
Zach Johnson is the only pick with a victory this season, taking home the trophy for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. He also tied for third at the PGA Championship. He represented Team USA in 2006 on the Ryder Cup. In a teleconference on Tuesday morning, Johnson said, “I’m thrilled and excited beyond belief.”
Rickie Fowler is the only rookie of the four, but brings experience from his success at the Walker Cup, where he was undefeated at last year’s matches (7-1-0), leading the US to victory. Pavin said, “It came down to feelings. I have a gut feeling about Rickie. He has a good [Walker Cup] record…He’s a very good player.”
Fowler is also young and fun to watch. I’ve been hoping he’d be picked — perhaps not based on merit, but on the made-for-TV aspect of the Ryder Cup, because come on, let’s be real, that draws in viewers, right? Don’t tell me you’d rather watch Lucas Glover or JB Holmes duel against Rory McIlroy because those guys are more “deserving.”
After his round on Monday at TPC Boston, Fowler said, “I love to win, especially in those team matches, playing for our country — it means a lot to me — and it’d definitely be a great experience to get picked…[Pavin] knows I’ve played the Walker Cup and done well. He’s done his homework and he knows what he’s doing.”
Fowler hasn’t won as a professional, but he’s finished runner-up three times in the past year, including twice earlier this season at the Waste Management Open and The Memorial. He’s the first American captain’s pick without a win.
Victorious American captain of the ’08 team Paul Azinger tweeted, “Team USA is loaded with heart and guts from top to bottom. They will be tough, motivated and ready! Can’t wait.”
They’re also the underdogs on foreign turf.
When asked what he’ll be feeling on the first tee in Wales, Bubba Watson, who clinched a spot after his runner-up finish at the PGA, said on Monday, “Don’t throw up.
“I’m going to be nervous, excited. I mean, a different kind of nervous — not a nervous to play good, but a nervous because I have a country behind me, I’ve got on the red, white and blue. It’s going to be a fun nervous.”
[Photo by Kyle Auclair/insidetheropes.com]