LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Wanamaker Trophy isn’t the only prize up for grabs Sunday. Also at stake is an automatic spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, as qualifying for the top 9 ends after the final round of the PGA Championship.
Six players – Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth – have accrued enough points to lock up their spot. Both Furyk (T-2) and Fowler (T-4) are in contention at Valhalla.
How the rest of the team shakes out will depend on what happens over these final two days here at the PGA. U.S. captain Tom Watson will announce his three wild-card picks on Sept. 2.
Keep in mind that Ryder Cup points are double during major weeks, so players receive two points for every $1,000 earned at the PGA. A victory (and, in some cases, a runner-up finish) by any U.S. player not currently among the top 9 will automatically put him on the team.
7. Patrick Reed: The two-time winner this season looks safe to earn a spot at Gleneagles. He is T-39 through two rounds of the PGA, and only a perfect storm of poor play by Reed and top finishes by the pursuers could bump him out.
8. Jason Dufner: The U.S. team’s biggest worry, as the defending PGA champion withdrew midway through Round 1 because of two bulging discs in his neck. Duf was disconsolate afterward, and he said that he didn’t know when he would return to competition – in two weeks, two months, or two years. His Ryder Cup status is very much in doubt.
9. Zach Johnson: Johnson has already leapfrogged Dufner in the rankings (up to No. 8) just by making the cut at the PGA. In a tie for 57th through two rounds, Zach would help his cause by picking up his play on the weekend, but he seems likely to make the team.
10. Phil Mickelson: Lefty appears to have saved his best for the last major of the year, as he sits in a tie for seventh after 36 holes. A good week would vault him past Dufner and into the top 9, a scenario that would give Tom Watson a bit more freedom with his three wild-card selections.
11. Keegan Bradley: No longer does he control his own fate, after missing the 36-hole cut at the PGA. To be on the Ryder Cup team, he’ll require a captain’s pick – a near-lock, though, given his successful partnership with Mickelson.
12: Brendon Todd: The Byron Nelson winner made the cut on the number at Valhalla, so he’ll need a spectacular weekend to crack the top 9. As hot as anyone this summer (six consecutive top 20s at one point), his performance in the next three weeks will determine whether Watson uses a captain’s pick on a guy with no team experience.
13. Ryan Moore: Rounds of 73-68 at least gave Moore a shot to get into the mix. As well as he has played over the past two months (four consecutive top 12s), he has given Watson plenty to consider.
14. Chris Kirk: A 74-72 start at the PGA ended his (slim) hopes of cracking the top 9. Given the current state of his game (one top 10 since January), it seems likely that Watson will skip over the McGladrey winner.
25. Brandt Snedeker: With the U.S. team in shambles, Watson has to be praying that Sneds finds some form over the next few weeks. He made the cut at the PGA, sitting outside the top 35, and he likely needs just one encouraging performance to find a spot on the team via wild-card pick. Good putters are always in high demand.
29. Ryan Palmer: The Texan is threatening to crash the Ryder Cup party, as he sits in a tie for fourth, just two shots behind Rory McIlroy, heading into the weekend here. He hasn’t done much of anything since a T-5 at Colonial, but a strong run until Sept. 2 will be difficult to ignore.
34. Billy Horschel: At this point, the U.S. team is the clear underdog and desperately in need of a spark. That might come in the form of Horschel, whose fiery demeanor makes Bradley seem tame. It helps, too, that he’s shown glimpses of good play in the past few months – T-15 at Memorial, T-6 in Memphis, T-11 at Congressional – and he is off to a T-17 start through two rounds at the PGA.
38. Steve Stricker: The 47-year-old semi-retired golfer was named an assistant captain on Wednesday, then he put himself in contention for one of the few times this season. At T-9, he is only four shots back heading into the weekend. Stricker can play his way onto the team with a win or runner-up here, though Watson clearly would prefer him in the assistant’s role.
69. Tiger Woods: The biggest question mark of them all, after a painful missed cut at the PGA Championship. The dearth of promising candidates gave Woods a decent chance to be picked, even without his best stuff. But the way Woods labored around Valhalla for two days, Watson would surprise many if he selected a player who clearly isn’t healthy.