With the battle for places on the teams hotting up as the Ryder Cup qualification race nears its conclusion, plenty of players need a big USPGA Championship
For the Europeans, D-Day is Sunday 28th August when the Made in Denmark event is scheduled to finish, with captain Darren Clarke then naming his three wildcards the following day. For the Americans, Sunday 28th August is also the day when its eight automatic qualifiers will be decided, with Davis Love III then making three wildcard selections two weeks later and a final one on Sept 25th after The Tour Championship.
So, who needs a big week in the USPGA at Baltusrol to cement their spot, catch the captain’s eye or put themselves firmly in the mix?
The automatic qualifiers will comprise the top 4 from the Ryder Cup European Points list and the top 5 from the Ryder Cup World Points list. At the moment the players currently filling those automatic spots are…
European list: Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, Henrik Stenson, Chris Wood
World list: Sergio Garcia, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Justin Rose, Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick
If we start with the most vulnerable in each list, Chris Wood looks pretty safe on the World list should he lose 4th spot on the European list, but will obviously be hoping the neck injury that forced his Open withdrawal has fully cleared up. Matt Fitzpatrick then holds a fairly healthy 28-point lead over the next man on the World List, Lee Westwood, but could do with rediscovering his form this week after a poor run following early June’s Nordea Masters victory.
Assuming for a moment that those nine hold on, that would mean the rookies would outnumber the experienced Ryder Cuppers, so it’s quite hard to see Clarke picking more than one rookie, if any.
This would mean Danish pair, Soren Kjeldsen and Thorbjorn Olesen – riding high on both lists after consistent campaigns – need something very special this week in Minnesota, while Shane Lowry might just have the edge on them given his WGC victory and runner-up finish in the US Open. Lowry has gone quiet since his Oakmont disappointment, so a similarly strong USPGA would help his cause no end.
The most experienced Ryder Cuppers outside the frame are Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Francesco Molinari, and if we dismiss any notion at all that Westwood won’t be there, that leaves Kaymer, McDowell and Molinari as the men who Clarke would most like to see scaling the heights this week and on into August.
Four big finishes in spring and early summer have helped Kaymer’s cause, but Clarke will be looking for much more to justify picking him. McDowell, meanwhile, started his PGA Tour campaign very strongly, but has lost his way since then and needs something very special at Baltusol to catch Clarke’s eye. Don’t bet against it though – McDowell has a habit of raising his game in Ryder Cup years, and while he’s leaving it late this year, there’s still time.
The eight automatic spots are currently filled by US Open champion Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, J.B. Holmes, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar in that order, with Brooks Koepka currently next in line.
But it’s all very tight beyond Mickelson in 3rd spot, and much could yet change, though it would be quite hard to see the experienced Watson and Kuchar not involved, even if they should slip outside the chosen eight. Snedeker appears to have come good at the right time, and Koepka will remain hopeful of a pick despite an untimely ankle injury that has seen him slip to 9th after the highs of back-to-back 2nds in the Byron Nelson and the FedEx St Jude Classic. But a big USPGA would no doubt come in very handy for Koepka.
As for the chasing pack, with no rookies currently in the automatic spots, Love III may have a little more room to manoeuvre than Clarke, but with the experienced Patrick Reed (Spieth’s partner from Gleneagles) and Rickie Fowler currently outside the automatic spots, the likes of Scott Piercy, Kevin Chappell, Bill Haas, Daniel Berger, Charley Hoffman, William McGirt and Kevin Na need to deliver in style at Hazeltine to either climb into the chosen eight or prove to Love III that they are the rookie worthy of a pick.
If Na should be the one to come through, let’s hope Love III puts him out last at Hazeltine…