While part of the golf world turns its eye to the Olympics next week, the majority of American players will use the remaining two months of the PGA Tour season to posture for golf's most important and longstanding tradition when it comes to donning the red, white and blue: the Ryder Cup.
Only four full field events are left on the Tour schedule before the top eight in the Ryder Cup standings lock into their roster spots after The Barclays, but this summer's weird Olympic schedule could complicate things for Ryder Cup selections, too. American Olympic golfers will miss at least one or two opportunities for points-gaining starts over that period, and many others may be burnt out and need a week or two of rest after the grueling summer schedule. The Travelers Championship (Hartford), John Deere Classic (Quad Cities) and Wyndham Championship (Greensboro) aren't exactly known for attracting A-1 fields, either. Don't be shocked if you don't see some of the top American players again until The Barclays at Bethpage in late August.
That situation has created a unique set of circumstances for U.S. captain Davis Love III -- and has led him to the point that he'll keep an "unofficial points list" in his head based off a subjective set of criteria. If a player that's suffered injuries in the points cycle over the last two years or isn't able to garner domestic starts because of the Olympics just misses the cut, it's a safe bet they'll make the roster as a captain's selection.
With that all in mind, let's look at who's safely on the roster for Hazeltine -- and who still has work to do heading into August to make the U.S. team.
Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jimmy Walker
Locks aren't for going out on a limb anyway, but you can confidently write these four names on the U.S. Ryder Cup roster for Hazeltine. DJ and Spieth have far and away been the most dominant two American players in the game over the last two seasons -- and they've rightfully already clinched their spots mathematically. There's a large gulf in points between Spieth in second and Phil in third, but you can be certain Lefty will be on the roster after his showing at the Open, barring injury. There's zero chance the last major champion of the year is missing the squad if he's fourth in points right now. Walker will make his second Ryder Cup appearance and third straight national team roster for Hazeltine.
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SHOULD BE SAFE
Brooks Koepka, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed
Here are two guys that currently sit fifth and sixth in the standings -- and three that aren't even inside the top eight at all. Still, if you're given an opportunity to place a wager on whether or not these five will each make the Ryder Cup roster, take the parlay and bet heavily. Koepka was near the top of the Ryder Cup standings before an ankle injury kept him out of the Bridgestone and Open Championship, where double points were issued. But his bounce back into contention at the PGA seems to indicate the missed time didn't create a dip in form and pulled him back into the top eight spots in the standings. He'll likely be making his first Ryder Cup appearance barring a recurrence or worsening of the ankle injury.
Johnson has won a major in this Ryder Cup cycle, hasn't missed a cut since early April and would be making his fifth Ryder Cup appearance and ninth national team appearance overall. He'll be on the team unless there's some cratering in form between now and the FedExCup.
But, of course, the elephant in the room is what to do with Watson, Fowler and Reed. The three Olympians are all in the top 14 in the world, but aren't in the top eight of the Ryder Cup standings. There's still time for two of the three to play their way in and make things easier on DL3. Watson and Reed will both play the Travelers this week in Hartford before jetting off to Rio. Bubba's won that Hartford event twice. They'll have two cracks to gain official points before the top eight lock in at the end of August, assuming they won't play in Greensboro after returning from Rio.
Fowler's situation is somewhat messier. He was on the Ryder Cup Task Force to revamp the team after the 2014 beatdown at Gleneagles, is one of the top seven players in the world and will have major allies on the top of the roster in close friends like Spieth and Walker. He's one of the biggest names in golf worldwide, and having him on the U.S. team is good for the sport. The downside? He hasn't sniffed contention since blowing a Sunday lead at the Wells Fargo in early May and he's never won a single Ryder Cup match in two editions. Fowler's also gotten absolutely worked in his last two national team singles appearances -- losing 6&5 to Adam Scott in last year's Presidents Cup and 5&4 to Rory McIlroy at Gleneagles. Woof.
Still, expect Fowler on the roster because it's hard to imagine him not making the roster.
DON'T LOSE THAT AUTO-SPOT
J.B. Holmes, Brandt Snedeker
At this point, Holmes and Sneds deserve to be on the roster. But in seventh and eighth, it's hard to imagine them getting the same preferential treatment if they fall down in the standings that might be afforded to the above three Olympians. They should be on the roster, and they'll have plenty of chances to retain those auto-spots since neither is heading to Rio. But DL3's said he's looking way down the list at possible captain's selections and these two falling into ninth and 10th while Bubba and Reed surge into the rankings might give the captain the requisite flexibility needed to select those lower in the standings.
FINAL SPOT CONTENDERS
Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Daniel Berger, Scott Piercy, William McGirt, Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner, Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Steve Stricker, Basically Anyone Who Will Make The FedExCup Playoffs
Oh boy. This one could be fun considering the final selection won't be made until after the conclusion of the Tour Championship, which ends the week of the Ryder Cup. But there's a favorite if one reads into DL3's words so far. He's often talked about those unofficial rankings, reaching far down the points list and keeping things pretty open and flexible based on injuries and current form. All that points directly to one name -- Jim Furyk. Injuries caused him to miss the early part of the 2016 season, but he's been consistently making cuts since -- as well as finishing T-2 to Dustin Johnson at the U.S. Open.
Of course, that would mean keeping Matt Kuchar off the roster, which would be borderline criminal. He hasn't won this season and hasn't been in contention at the majors, but Kooch has nine top-10 finishes, including three third-place finishes, since the WGC Match Play in late March. That's exactly the same number that Furyk, Watson, Fowler and Reed have in that period combined.
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But with such an extended stretch before the final selection that includes four strong-field events in a row during the FedExCup Playoffs, literally any American player that has a shot of qualifying for the Playoffs is still alive for a Ryder Cup bid. Anyone who hits a nice run of form right before the Ryder Cup should be hard to keep off the team if DL3 is true to his word about caring about how you're playing now. This is why the Billy Horschel rule was put into effect after that mess in 2014. If the FedExCup champion isn't one of the players already on the roster, that name will vault to the top of the list for the final spot on the team after the tournament concludes.
Here's a look at the U.S. standings as they sit right now heading into this week in Hartford.
|Rank This week||First||Last||Rank Last week||2016 Cumulative POINTS||Last Week Cumulative POINTS|
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