Four hoping Love comes calling
THE FIRST first real task of his captaincy will befall Davis Love III in the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York this afternoon, when the American completes his team for next month’s Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.
Just over a week after José María Olazábal named Nicolas Colsaerts and Ian Poulter as his two captain’s picks, such is the embarrassment of riches at Love’s disposal his job – even with four wild cards – is unquestionably the tougher ask.
As it stands, the USA team consists of eight players who qualified automatically through a two-year campaign: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson are all confirmed.
Who will join them? In times past, the US captain traditionally named his picks at the conclusion of the US PGA Championship. A month has passed since Rory McIlroy claimed that last Major of the year and, in truth, the likelihood is Love’s perspective of who should be granted his pick has also changed greatly. The list of candidates has expanded in that short space of time.
On the day after the PGA, Love sat in a downtown hotel in Charleston and conceded Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan figured prominently in his thoughts.
He mentioned a fondness too for Rickie Fowler. What has happened since then is Nick Watney has rediscovered his from, highlighted by his win in the Barclays Championship, and Dustin Johnson is also back in the groove.
Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas, Bo Van Pelt and David Toms are also under his consideration.
“Nobody is out and nobody is in,” remarked Love on that day in August.
His decision to leave the door ajar for potential team members has proven to be a wise one, as players have responded with a discernible improvement in form which has left Love with a challenge that could yet be decided by how players will fit in with those already assured of their places in the team room as much as how they’re performing on the course.
In contrast to the Europeans, who have only one “rookie” in the team, with Belgian Colsaerts due to make his debut in the biennial team competition, the USA already have three “rookies” – Bradley, Simpson and Dufner – confirmed in their line-up.
It’s unlikely Love will opt for any more newcomers.
Fowler, who made his debut in the defeat at Celtic Manor two years ago, struggled to a final round 76 in yesterday’s conclusion of the Deutsche Bank championship in Boston.
However, that one poor round – which included an ugly triple-bogey eight on his second hole and a double-bogey on the sixth – is unlikely to unduly influence Love, who has professed to a liking for what Fowler brings to the team room.
Love has acknowledged how Fowler and Watson brought some comic relief to the team room in Celtic Manor.
“I think it’s going to come down to a gut decision,” was how Love put his assessment of potential wild cards in the aftermath of the PGA.
Since then, the picture has been complicated – in a good way for him – by the return to form of Johnson and Watney.
Stricker, seen as a natural partner for Woods, is favourite for one spot. Given Love’s conservative image, Furyk is also favoured for another. The other two spots are less apparent. Mahan is probably the frontrunner – having finished ninth, just outside an automatic spot – in the qualifying table.
After that, it is a question of Fowler, Johnson or Watney. Take your pick.
Whilst the American team will be finalised with Love’s four wild card picks, after which he will ring the bell to close the NASDAQ, it will be a case of the FedEx Cup series moving on to the third leg of the US Tour’s play-offs with this week’s BMW Championship at Crooked Stick in Indiana.
All three Irish players – Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington – involved in the play-offs have remained inside the top-70 cut-off mark and will be in action.
Harrington finished with a 67 in yesterday’s final round of the Deutsche Bank, to move inside the top-60 in the FedEx standings, and McDowell – playing alongside the Dubliner – closed with a 72 and was projected to be 44th on the play-off standings.