2014 Ryder Cup: Players on the Bubble Getting Hot as Captain's Picks Approach

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2014

Ryan Palmer watches his tee shot on the third hole during the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship golf tournament in Norton, Mass., Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)
Stew Milne/Associated Press

For a time it looked like Tom Watson, the 2014 Ryder Cup captain, had little choice but to pull the hair from his wonderfully coiffed, 64-year-old melon.

There was Tiger Woods’ back, Jason Dufner’s neck and Dustin Johnson’s something or other. Who would Watson pick? Who could he pick?

Behind closed doors, Watson must have been as happy as a hobbit during second breakfast when he heard Woods withdraw from Ryder Cup consideration. Who wants to be the captain who didn’t select Woods, even if it’s a Woods working on half an engine?

Then along came Hunter Mahan. Mahan won the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and jumped from the depths of the FedEx standings (61st) to the top with a sparkling round of golf on Sunday at The Barclays.

Up to that point, Mahan had what you’d call a mediocre 2014, to put it mildly. His season was up, then down, then down again. As the Ryder Cup loomed, he finished T15 at WGC Bridgestone, T7 at the PGA Championship and then won The Barclays.

Pick me, Tom, pick me.

One imagines Watson sitting in a Wolf Blizter Situation Room as he watches all these players vie for his three golden tickets to Europe.

Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle wrote (via Golf.com), “Three weeks ago, Watson had a slew of uninspiring choices in what looked like another summer where no American player made a move to play his way onto the team. Now, Watson actually has some candidates to pick from.”

Included in this new pool of resurgent talent are the players atop the leader board at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, the second leg of the playoffs.

Watson is the prettiest girl at the bar this week. Everyone on that fringe of the Ryder Cup team plans on courting the eight-time major champion, taking him to a nice seafood dinner. Only they are the ones hoping the he will call them back.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Take Webb Simpson, currently 15th in Ryder Cup points. He finished his first round at the DBC with a five-under 66.

“I know it’s a big week,” Simpson said, per Golf Channel's Will Gray. “I know I need a really good, consistent week to show him my game is there. I think it’s there. It’s kind of make-or-break for me. Who knows what (Watson) is thinking. He’s got a lot of great guys playing well right now. I’ve got to keep playing well.”

And as Golf Channel’s Will Gray noted, this isn’t exactly unfamiliar terrain for Simpson. Gray wrote, “It was a welcome bounce-back for Simpson after he missed the cut last week at The Barclays. One year after needing a captain’s pick to make the Presidents Cup squad, he again finds himself in a familiar position.”

Simpson’s not even in the lead. That belongs to Ryan Palmer at eight under. Palmer was rollin’ like Limp Bizkit (NSFW). Palmer had 15 one-putts and leads the tournament by two strokes.

“It’s been great for the last couple of months,” Palmer, who sits 18th in Ryder Cup points, said during the Golf Channel broadcast. “My short putting has been phenomenal. I make a lot more putts inside of six feet. When you get putts going from 15 [feet] and in, especially for birdie, it makes for good days.”

Adding to that, he didn’t miss a single putt from inside 15 feet. During the Ryder Cup, how critical is it to have someone who can roll a putt in to halve or win a hole from a dozen feet?

Yet another fringe player gave Watson the golf equivalent of a flirtatious wink. Keegan Bradley (13th in Ryder Cup points) shot six-under and is always in a Ryder Cup state of mind. He makes no effort to hide it.

Stew Milne/Associated Press

"When I wake up, I'm thinking about it. When I'm on the course, I'm thinking about it," he said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "I've just made the decision that it's going to come up and I'm not going to try to block it out. I'm just going to try to embrace it and be aware of those thoughts."

Van Sickle thinks Bradley has the inside track to one of the three captains picks Watson wields:

Keegan Bradley has Ryder Cup experience, a PGA Championship title on his resume and a bit of history as a good running mate for Phil Mickelson. Bradley clearly isn’t hitting on all cylinders, however. He’s had his moments -- fourth at the U.S. Open, Greenbrier and Firestone, and 19th at the British Open. The last two starts have been a missed cut at the PGA and 53rd at Barclays. He’s a question mark but a question mark with a pedigree.

Bill Haas—sitting in the Ryder Cup rough, so to speak—is sitting at four-under. 

This is a Hunger Games-style bloodbath for the Ryder Cup cornucopia. Mahan (The Barclays winner), Bradley (a former Ryder Cup player), Simpson (the 2012 U.S. Open champion), Palmer (leader at the DBC) and Haas (a former FedEx Cup champ) are looking for sponsors from the Capital and another reason to keep the odds ever in their favor for this year's Ryder Cup.