Don’t you just love speculation? Especially when it comes to US Ryder Cup selections.
Just to refresh your memory, our US Captain gets four picks these days, thanks to Paul Azinger’s insistence. The selections are based on “what have you done for me lately,” otherwise known as this year’s money list. There are double points for majors plus leftover points from 2009 majors.
Right now the top eight, in order, are Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Lucas Glover, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Tiger Woods. A formidable group. If there’s any slippage by Woods or Kuchar, the next four on the list are Hunter Mahan, Jeff Overton, Ricky Barnes and Ben Crane.
Who would you pick of the next eight or so players?
Hunter Mahan has won on the PGA Tour and has Ryder Cup experience. He went 2-0-3 in 2008 for 3 ½ points, the most of any US player. You can bet he gets picked if he doesn’t rise in the points.
Jeff Overton has not yet won a PGA Tour event, and that makes him unlikely as a choice.
The next two are Ricky Barnes and Ben Crane. Barnes won a US Amateur, the epitome of match play, but it has taken him several seasons to manage his swing to stay on the PGA Tour. He’s now 58th on the World Rankings, up from 194th last year, so something is working for him other than looking like John Travolta.
Corey Pavin at his golf best was a brash, prickly, gutsy fighter of a guy. He’s Raymond Floyd in a smaller body. One would think Pavin will go for fearless players. That may mean bypassing Crane, who doesn’t like to see who he is paired with because he “looks up to so many guys.” At the Ryder Cup, you don’t want to look up to other players. You want to look down on the other team, even if you are five foot four. However, Crane, with one victory, could potentially slow play Padraig Harrington to a match victory.
With three weeks left in the points gathering, expect the drama and guessing to build.
Overton and Crane have a chance to make the team on points. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods has a chance to drop down, depending on how he plays at Bridgestone and the PGA Championship.
In the important 13th through 16th places we have Stewart Cink, Nick Watney, newcomer Rickie Fowler, and Bubba Watson. Cink, lest we forget, is the 2009 British Open champ.
Watney is a student of Butch Harmon, with two victory notches on his belt, although his form of late is not as good as it was last season.
Fowler, while short on experience compared to all the rest, climbed his way into the 15th spot in a single season. Everybody compares him to Lanny Wadkins, and that can’t be a bad thing for a golfer. You just get the feeling he will chew a guy’s leg off to get a point.
In the 16th slot is Bubba Watson, who recently won at Travelers, and afterward he started talking about how important it would be to play for his country.
Faced with a team of five lock veterans with the probable lock of Woods, Pavin definitely has three mystery picks if Woods doesn’t make it on points and four if he does. There’s no way he leaves Woods off the team unless Woods asks to be left off. As Paul Azinger said, you always want the best player in the world on your team.
After that, no one knows what method Pavin will use. Some captains have just gone down the points list for the next players. Some, like Azinger, have asked those who already made the team for input. That way everyone’s invested in the choices.
Pavin would be taking a chance on non-winners if he selected Barnes, Overton or Fowler. They are unproven, and he will already have three Ryder Cup rookies in Lucas Glover, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Kuchar, in 7th , could get bumped with great play by someone just behind him on the list, and that could change the whole order of things.
For certain, Stewart Cink gets a nod, and so does Hunter Mahan. Pavin then has two remaining choices, assuming Woods makes it on points.
Does he dare go with untested Ben Crane or Jeff Overton? With his legacy riding on it, Pavin will have to know something that the rest of us don’t. In the end, it may come down to personal relationships. Who does Pavin like and believe in his heart can go the distance.
Don’t you wish you could get inside Pavin’s head for a little while?
Who would I pick today: Stewart Cink, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, and I might go farther down the list to Ryan Moore who won everything in the world at match play as an amateur.