The stage is nearly set for the 2012 Ryder Cup between the United States and Europe, September 28-30 at Medinah Country Club just outside Chicago.
It's been two long years since Team Europe outlasted the U.S. squad with a 14.5 to 13.5 victory at Celtic Manor Resort in Wales and the American team is looking for revenge on their home turf.
Here's what we know right now. The U.S. team has its top eight players set: Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson have earned enough points to snag the automatic berths.
That's some serious fire power. And they don't really need any introduction, but here's a brief rundown of their credentials.
Tiger is making his seventh Ryder Cup appearance and he, of course, has 14 major championships under his belt. Watson is the reigning Masters champion. Simpson is the current U.S. Open winner. Mickelson is a four-time major champion and he's making his record ninth Ryder Cup appearance. Dufner has been one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour this year with three wins and seven top-10 finishes. Bradley recently won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational before finishing T-3 in the defense of his 2011 PGA Championship victory. Kuchar has the best scoring average on the PGA Tour and he's tied for the most top-10 finishes this season. And Johnson is one of the steadiest players in the game with two wins and six top-10s this year.
On September 4, U.S. team captain Davis Love III will get four more selections known as "Captain's Picks" to round out his roster.
It sounds simple enough, but with so many deserving and capable players available, it's going to be a very difficult decision for Love. Here are the four players I think he will select to complete the U.S. squad.
If I'm Davis Love, the very first guy I'm turning to with one of my Captain's Picks is Hunter Mahan—for more reasons than one.
Sure, Mahan's next in line in the U.S. team standings at the No. 9 position, but the 2012 Ryder Cup is personal to him. It was Mahan who stubbed a seemingly simple chip shot at the 17th hole of his 2010 singles match against Graeme McDowell that gave Europe the clinching point it needed to take the victory.
Mahan was understandably distraught afterward and you can bet the memory of that botched shot has haunted him since. He wants to redeem himself and I know he'd love nothing more than to be pitted against McDowell again if possible to do it.
Additionally, Mahan is having a great 2012 season. No, he's not the hottest player in the game right now—something that is a very important consideration. But he's got more than enough working in his favor to warrant his inclusion on the 2012 squad, including two victories this year.
Hunter Mahan, welcome to the team.
Steve Stricker has everything you'd want in a Ryder Cup teammate. Not only is he just behind Hunter Mahan in points at the No. 10 position, but he's a calming, steady force under the intense pressure of match play.
Stricker hasn't had the kind of year I predicted he would after he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to kick off the 2012 PGA Tour season. But he does have an impressive seven top-10 finishes including a T-2 at the Bridgestone Invitational and a T-7 at the PGA Championship within the past few weeks.
He's got the experience and his game is in shape.
And while his 2012 stats aren't backing it up, Stricker is still one of the best putters in the game. If I need a clutch putt made in the Ryder Cup, I'm calling on Steve Stricker.
He also pairs pretty well with Tiger Woods—they won two matches together in 2010—so I fully expect to see Stricker's name on the 2012 team.
Sadly, Jim Furyk has become known more for his final round collapses than he has his great play in 2012.
Furyk was in the last group at the U.S. Open on Sunday before closing with a final round 74 to finish T-4. Then, at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Furyk was in the final group on Sunday and took the lead all the way to the 18th hole before a double bogey cost him that championship. He finished T-2.
Don't worry. Furyk's psyche is fine and he could really be motivated to redeem himself from those painful losses by successfully representing his country at the Ryder Cup.
My guess is that's exactly what will happen.
Furyk has been on seven different U.S. Ryder Cup teams—the past seven in a row, in fact—and his experience could prove invaluable. I want Jim Furyk on my team.
My final pick is where things got really difficult for me. I feel like there is a great mix of talent and experience with Mahan, Stricker and Furyk, so I'm looking for the hottest player right now with an all-around great game.
Looking down through the best of the rest—the top 20 players in the U.S. team's standings—it's a tough choice.
Rickie Fowler was on the 2010 team and he played very well at Celtic Manor. If you can catch him when he's hot, it's a no-brainer. Fowler is a streaky player, but this is not the month of May when Fowler was on fire with his first PGA Tour victory at the Wells Fargo and two other top-fives. He has done absolutely nothing since, so Rickie Fowler is not my choice even though he's next (No. 12) in the points standings.
I'm also not going with Brandt Snedeker, who follows Fowler at No. 13. Sneds made some noise with his fine play (T-3) at the Open Championship, but he has disappeared since.
Both Fowler and Snedeker are great guys and they would be great teammates, but I'm not comfortable with how they're playing right now.
I'm taking Bo Van Pelt with my final pick. Van Pelt just always seems to be hanging around the leaderboards on the PGA Tour and his eight top-10 finishes back up that notion, three of which have happened in the past five weeks. He's also a deadly putter inside 10 feet. Tee to green, the guy is just rock solid. I really like his game so I'm giving Bo Van Pelt a chance.