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Ryder Cup Roulette

On the last day of the 1995 PGA Championship, Brad Faxon needed magic, and when you can putt like Faxon, you can conjure up a hat with a rabbit in it when the audience least expects it. With absolutely nothing to lose, Faxon went out in 7-under 28 on his first nine at Riviera Country Club and finished with 63 that Sunday in August.

Still, he needed one last wave of his wand. He had to hole a 15-footer for par on the 72nd hole to give him a fifth-place finish in the PGA, which caused him to leap from 14th on the Ryder Cup points list to 10th and assure him a berth on the U.S. team.

Jim Furyk needs that kind of last-minute dash to the finish if he’s going to play in his eighth Ryder Cup. Furyk started last week at 15th on the U.S. Ryder Cup list. These days, the top eight after the PGA Championship get automatic berths.

Furyk led for 71 holes of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which was bound to get the attention of U.S. captain Davis Love III, who will make four captain’s picks in early September. But Furyk would have had to win the Bridgestone to get inside the top eight. Currently 10th on the list, he still needs a great finish at the PGA Championship to get in automatically.

If Furyk doesn’t make the Elite Eight, Love has to wonder about taking Furyk as a captain’s pick, especially after Furyk’s finish at the Bridgestone that goes along with spitting the bit at the 70th hole with the lead at the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club. Yes, Furyk is a Ryder Cup veteran but he’s also 43 and it’s becoming clear lately that championship golf is a young man’s game.

There’s now some volatility at the bottom of the U.S. list. Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar had the first six places at the beginning of the week. Going into the Bridgestone, Phil Mickelson was seventh and Hunter Mahan was eighth. Keegan Bradley came from ninth place with his win at the Bridgestone and moved into fourth, making him a lock and knocking Mahan out of the automatic list.

Kuchar and Mickelson are on the hot seat this week, Mickelson more than Kuchar due to his poor and seemingly uninspired play for what seems like the longest while. If Mickelson gets knocked out of the top eight this week at the PGA Championship, Love will have the biggest decision of his short career as captain – whether to use a captain’s pick on someone whose form is so very far from his best.

Steve Stricker started last week 13th on the list and his tie for second at the Bridgestone got him solidly into 10th, which is almost certain to earn him a captain’s pick. The players to watch this week besides Furyk and Stricker are Rickie Fowler (12th), Brandt Snedeker (13th) and Dustin Johnson (14th), who were all in the top 12 going into the Bridgestone and all fell back after the high finish for both Furyk and Stricker. The bottom line is there are six players for four likely spots and all need good performances this week to either lock up a spot or make the team as a pick.

In Europe, the points table is much more stable. The European team is selected by two lists – the top five in European Tour points and the top five on a world points list not already qualified off the other list.

At the moment, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari are the top five in European points. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia make up the other five in world points. The automatic qualifiers will be determined after the Johnnie Walker Championship on Aug. 26. Captain Jose Maria Olazabal will make two captain’s picks the following day.

And those picks will be problematic for Olazabal. Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium has played well this year and is ninth on the European points list and 11th on the world points list. However, should Colsaerts be chosen, he’d be a Ryder Cup rookie playing on foreign soil and it’s not certain how much of an appetite Olazabal would have for that.

A seemingly obvious pick is the veteran Ian Poulter, who is just behind Colsaerts on the world points list. Poulter was 4-1 for Europe in 2008 at Valhalla, where the Americans won, 16½-11½.

Then, there’s the case of Padraig Harrington, 20th on the world points list and who hasn’t played anywhere near his best golf in more than a year. He entered the Reno-Tahoe Open on the PGA Tour in an effort to get some world ranking points to move him up the list. However, he has won three major championships. Still, he needs a great finish at the PGA Championship this week to earn consideration.

The likes of Harrington and Mickelson are going to be required to do the one thing this week at the PGA Championship they have both failed to do up to this point in the year, which is to hole crucial putts in pressure situations.

Faxon’s cell phone might just be about to start ringing.


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