For Team USA bubble boys, more than a major at stake
By WUP Staff under PGA Championship

All stats and figures compiled by Shoshana, a recent graduate school grad with too much time on her hands and an excellent researcher.

Team USA celebrates in 2008

There’s added pressure — even more so than what the major title commands — for some American players this week at the PGA Championship, dubbed “Glory’s Last Shot” since it’s the fourth and final major championship of the season. Well, the tagline is slightly overused, but it bears extra meaning for Team USA Ryder Cup hopefuls to make the squad on points, with the top eight in the standings earning automatic berths to the biennial matches against Team Europe, held this year at Medinah Country Club from September 25-30.

The race is always tight, but it seems tougher than it was two years ago because — well, just go down the list of names: Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson — all of whom are not in the top eight in points standings at the moment. Let’s see, with the exception of Jim Furyk, who probably *should* have won a major and WGC, each of those players have at least a victory under their belt in 2012 (which will make U.S. captain Davis Love III’s job harder and easier). In fact, Mahan has won twice, including a World Golf Championship event.

Even though it’s a major, the atmosphere seemed ramped up for a Tuesday. Maybe it was the stormy weather or the fatigue catching up to some guys who have played three or four weeks in a row, including the British Open and WGC event. Maybe it was just me, but something felt different.

Well, the heat is since it’s GLORY’S LAST SHOT for a major and an automatic spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup. Those in the mix who don’t make the top eight still have a chance, but their fate lies in DL3’s hands — following the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second FedExCup event, on September 4th, he’ll announce his four captain’s picks. Look out for lots of sycophancy!

(Aside: It’s actually been interesting to see who Love has played practice rounds with recently. He’s played with Stricker at the Open Championship and again on Tuesday here at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. Oh, and for that matter, the guys who he’s been paired with at tournaments, like Phil Mickelson in the first two rounds this week, have the chance to make an impression.)

*Points are rewarded for every dollar earned, but majors, which, of course, includes the PGA Championship, count for double points. Wait, what the heck does that mean exactly? Please go here for the breakdown of the U.S. team qualification process.

*Going into the PGA Championship, the top eight in points are (in order from 1 to 8): Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Mickelson.

*There are a bunch of big names outside the top eight looking in, including (in order) Mahan, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. Odds are that at least one of those five players will not make the team.

*Phil and Hunter are fairly close in points for the 8th spot. Besides Hunter, everyone else (including Stricker, Furyk, Fowler and DJ), needs to have a big week to pass Phil. More specific, to potentially crack the top eight, they would need at least a top-ten finish (and probably top 5). Another exception: If Phil MCs this week, then a player inside the top 37 in points could leapfrog the 8th spot by winning.

*It would take a near miracle for more than one — possibly two — players who currently in the top eight to fall out and lose a berth on the team. Tiger Woods is the only guy who has technically locked up a spot.

*Just a hypothetical or alternative thought (because like I said, Shoshana has too much time on her hands): If the U.S. team were selected based on points earned in 2012 via the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) system — which is flawed, but factor in results from events played internationally and take into account the strength of the field — the top eight in the standings would be: Tiger, Bubba, Dufner, Zach Johnson, Kuchar, Mahan, Keegan and Webb. The next four would be: Furyk, Stricker, Fowler and Mickelson. Dustin Johnson would fall down to 19th, just behind Robert Garrigus (18th) in the rankings.

*This hypothetical world ranking system would give Davis Love III the option to use one of his wildcard picks on Phil rather than making it automatically. (Since finishing T7 at the Byron Nelson Championship, Phil has only broken par once and his results in last three months at PGA Tour-sanctioned events read: WD, T65, MC, MC, T43.)

*Most of the guys have voiced how badly they want to make the squad when asked in the last few months (or really, anytime). After winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, Keegan Bradley said he was thinking about it every waking second. He repeated how much it means to him in his pre-tournament presser at Kiawah Island today (Tuesday). He hasn’t locked up a spot, but it’d be virtually impossible for him to move outside the top eight. Furyk has also admitted to how much he wants to be on the squad. Stricker said he added The Greenbrier Classic to his schedule to pick up more points.

Look for the pressure of qualifying for the U.S. Ryder Cup team to be a subplot to the stories that unfold at Glory’s Last Shot…


(Getty Images/Sam Greenwood)