There are a couple concurrent contests running on Sunday at the PGA Championship. There is the obvious final round of a major, which Brooks Koepka leads by two and is the heavy favorite to win. And then there’s the Ryder Cup points race, the last dash to automatically qualify for Jim Furyk’s USA roster.
The PGA of America closes the points race, largely based on earnings, after their premier event, the PGA Championship. The majors are also worth double points in the qualifying process so there’s an opportunity, if you play well, to make a big move up the standings. As we start Sunday’s final round, Furyk’s qualifiers are largely set. The top seven of eight are locked in for Paris at the end of September, but there’s a possibility for some movement in that eighth and final spot.
Webb Simpson, on the back of his dominant Players Championship win in May, currently occupies the eighth spot in the standings. Simpson is also not exactly blowing it in this final event before the standings close. He’ll start the final round in a tie for 15th place at 6-under. He’s in good shape to make the team. Here are the pre-PGA Championship standings:
2018 USA Ryder Cup standings — 8/11
This was supposed to be a weekend of Bryson DeChambeau battling Simpson for the last spot. But The Artiste booted it in the second round, making three bogeys in his last six holes of the second round to go from safely on the right side of the cut line to an early exit with no points. So DeChambeau will have to rely on a captain’s pick if he’s to make the roster and that’s not ideal for a personality that I think fans and content-makers (me) wanted in Paris.
The two primary candidates to jump Simpson on Sunday are Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele, and there’s a longshot potential for Tiger Woods and Gary Woodland to shoot all way up to an auto-bid with a win. Tony Finau had a chance to jump into the final spot but he made the cut on the number and sits in a tie for 58th. He would need Webb to completely collapse and post some miracle round to shoot into the top five. It’s not happening for Finau.
If Webb stays around 15th on the leaderboard, Kisner would likely need a 3rd place or better finish and Xander would need a 4th place finish or better. It’s possible, but Webb should be feeling pretty comfortable heading into Sunday.
The one spot of pressure on Webb, however, is that he likely needs to make it on points. That’s because the competition for the four captain’s picks is stiff and he probably wouldn’t be an option. It’s almost certain that two places will be reserved for two legends and players that have been integral in overhauling the USA’s entire approach.
Here are your most likely captain’s pick options from the standings above.
Tiger Woods (lock it in)
This is not up for debate. Unless he gets injured or wins on Sunday and makes it on points, Tiger is going to be a pick. And he should be. Despite his points ranking, which is diminished by not playing any of the majors last year, he’s played as a top 15-20 player in the world this season. So his game has been good enough and oh, yes, he’s also Tiger Woods and has to be on the team no matter how good or bad he’s looked.
Phil Mickelson (99 percent lock)
This is the first time Phil will not be an automatic points qualifier since 1993. It’s an outrageous run that we probably won’t see ever again, from either side. Phil has not played well this summer. It’s a hard truth but he’s just not been a Sunday factor at any event since he won the WGC Mexico. But he’s got that legend status, is part of the clique that’s running this U.S. Ryder Cup operation these days, and is not THAT far off on the points list. The form has been underwhelming, but he’s still 10th on the points. He’s going to be on the team.
Matt Kuchar (reports are it’s likely)
Here’s a third veteran that, from all indications, is likely a choice for Furyk. He’s got less of an argument than Tiger and Phil, who can pretty much reserve two spots on US teams whenever they are healthy. Kuchar was 12th in points heading into the PGA, where he missed the cut. While his record is underwhleming, he’s been on the last four Ryder Cup teams and is a mainstay on the Presidents Cup team. You can argue for his spot to go to another young up-and-comer, but Kuchar is malleable and can partner with anyone. Everyone on the team loves him. Maybe that shouldn’t carry weight for winning matches, but it does in this process.
Kuchar may get left off if he plays like garbage during the FedExCup Playoffs. But for this exercise, we’ll operate under the assumption that only one of the four captain’s picks is up for grabs. If Kuchar is left off, expect two of the names below to be the final adds.
Bryson DeChambeau — The last man out on points will be a controversial pick. Tiger, from all accounts, loves him and the way he thinks about the game. That backing matters. But he can also rub people the wrong way. There’s this narrative that has gained steam, based on recent range meltdowns, a choke finish in Europe, and a stupid handshake etiquette controversy, that he might not be well-suited for a team environment and the one that’s the most pressurized in golf. Whether that narrative is just dumb noise or matters to Furyk remains to be seen. He made it harder on himself with his late boot and MC at the PGA.
Tony Finau — The big hitter played with Furyk at the PGA and did not make a great first impression, hitting a shank en route to an ugly first round number. But then he showed his stuff on day 2, posting an absurd 10 birdies in one of the wildest major championship scorecards you’ll ever see. Birdies matter more at the Ryder Cup and in match play than anywhere else. Furyk had to love it but is there room for a guy who is likely to be a part of this team in the next decade? He posted top 10s at the first three majors of the year and his style is a strong argument for the fourth spot.
Kevin Kisner — He’s looked great at the last two major championships and was a darling of the team room at last fall’s Presidents Cup. That seems to be one of the stronger arguments for why he might make it. Mickelson may also lobby for him to reprise that successful Pres Cup partnership. As a fan, Kisner would be a great personality to root for but again, there just may not be enough room this time.
Xander Schauffele — The X-man is the reigning rookie of the year but this process can get political and both he and Finau probably have the least capital in that respect right now. If you’re a proponent of getting more young blood on the team, he’s arguably the best option. He continues to post in all the biggest and most pressurized events in the game. There’s just a lot competition for one spot right now. Of all the candidates, I could most envision him turning it on and balling out the next four weeks to make Furyk’s choice for him.
We can assess the roster based on points, which lock down on Sunday night for the American side. But it’s premature to get too wrapped up in arguing captain’s picks. That’s because so much can happen between now and the selections. Here’ the schedule:
Tues September 4th — Three of four captain’s picks are made following the second FedExCup event in Boston. That leaves three tournaments, including two playoffs events, between the PGA and the first round of picks.
Mon September 10 — The fourth and final pick is made. This adds the third leg of the Playoffs, the BMW Championship, as a potential last-minute proving ground. This is a modification to the so-called “Horschel Rule,” named as such after Billy Horschel became the hottest golfer in the world and won the FedExCup after Tom Watson had made his captain’s picks in 2014. The last time around in 2016, the Horschel Rule put the fourth and final pick coming after the Tour Championship. But that got too ridiculously close to the actual Ryder Cup, with the debate going into that Sunday night at the start of the matches week.
The roster universe feels confined to the options above but Horschel’s run in 2014 is a reminder of how much this can change. He was not really on the radar in 2014. So there’s still a chance the roster is filled out with someone not listed. It will come from that top 25 in standings, but it could be a name no one is discussing if he gets hot enough between now and the final pick. We spend an inordinate amount of time debating Ryder Cup rosters, but it’s one of my favorite biennial exercises and it’s going to consume the next month.