Back when the late, great Roger Ebert was the best movie reviewer in the business (and the best pure “writer” among those critics) he would prepare us for the Oscars with two lists:
Ebert would predict the winners he believed the academy would honor. And he would tell us who he thought the academy “should” honor.
It is in that spirit that I have compiled three lists here as the Sept. 2 date nears for U.S. captain Tom Watson to name his three wild-card choices for the Ryder Cup matches that will be played in Scotland late next month.
Who He Will Pick: Keegan Bradley, Brandt Snedeker and Hunter Mahan
Who He Should Pick: Hunter Mahan, Bill Haas and Ryan Palmer
Who I’d Like To See Him Pick: Hunter Mahan, Erik Compton and Dustin Johnson.
Let’s start by noting that Mahan, who posted a T15 at WGC-Bridgestone followed by a T7 at the PGA Championship followed by a win Sunday at The Barclays, where he putted lights out under the harsh glare of back-nine pressure, appears on all three lists.
Mahan’s in. Basically, everybody else is playing for the other two spots.
Watson will pick Bradley because Bradley pairs well with Phil Mickelson and he has done everything Watson has asked, including showing up on a Gleneagles scouting trip where he earned big-time brownie points from Watson.
Problem is the increasingly twitchy Bradley is trying too hard and he has been getting in his own way. He missed the cut at Bridgestone and played an indifferent weekend at the Barclays where he finished T53. That’s why I don’t think he “should” be a pick and why he’s not on my personal wish list.
Snedeker finished 20th on the Ryder Cup points list and missed the cut at Barclays after failing to close down the stretch at Wyndham. The fact that he appears on the same MasterCard commercial with Watson gives off a slight odor of conflict of interest. But Watson will choose him on the strength of his T12-T13-T5 recent run at Bridgestone, Valhalla and Wyndham. Plus, he’s a good putter.
Haas and Palmer show up on my “should” list because both are in form (Haas second at Wyndham; Palmer T5 at PGA.) And both are in top 20 in the telling “all-around” ranking. Both, too, are relatively unflappable and wired to withstand the heat that will be generated in the hostile environment that Gleneagles will produce. Remember, Haas, a former FedEx Cup winner plays some of his best golf at this time of the year.
Now we come to the three I’d like to see him pick. Again, Mahan is a lock.
Why Erik Compton?
Because the Americans are going to be massive underdogs this time around and they will need all the inspiration they can find. Compton is a two-time heart transplant recipient.
And he has game.
He finished T2 at the U.S. Open in June; he finished 21st on the Ryder Cup points list and he churned out a top-20 Sunday at the Barclays. Imagine, if you will, the inspirational talk he could give in the team room the night before the matches.
Yeah, yeah. Talk is cheap. But Compton has earned the right – on and off the course – to be heard when he speaks.
Finally, Dustin Johnson.
Last time we checked Johnson had checked out. The unofficial word was rehab and the consensus was he took himself out of the picture before the PGA Tour suspended him.
Here’s the thing: Johnson played better than any other American in a losing cause at Medinah two years ago. He’s a monster talent and probably the best four-balls player born in America. The Ryder Cup is run by the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour. So Watson doesn’t necessarily have to play by Tim Finchem’s rules when he makes his selections. Plus rust shouldn’t be a problem for Johnson judging by his career results at the calendar-opening Kapalua event, where he has won once and averaged better than a top-10 in six appearances.
Like Compton, a Dustin Johnson pick would be way outside the box. But both would shake things up, which, at this point, is what the Yanks will need if they are to avoid losing for the sixth time in the past seven Ryder Cups.
PS: The two most deserving players that didn’t show up on any of the three lists above are Ryan Moore and Cameron Tringale.
As for the Euros: The only thing for certain certain is that captain Paul McGinley will make the redoubtable Ian Poulter, a living Ryder Cup legend, one of his picks.