Punch Shot: U.S. Ryder Cup wildcard questions

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 30, 2016, 6:00 pm

The European Ryder Cup team has been finalized. The U.S. squad won't be completed for another four weeks. Captain Davis Love III will make three picks on Sept. 12, after two more FedEx Cup Playoff events, and then a final selection on Sept. 25, following the Tour Championship. Our writers size up some possible U.S. wildcards:

Who is a stone-cold lock to earn a captain's pick?

Ryan Lavner: Rickie Fowler. There are at least enough positive signs to justify the selection – he won against a stout field in Abu Dhabi, he had three good opportunities here in the States and, frankly, there aren’t many better options – and he’s also shown tremendous enthusiasm for the event, even adding the Wyndham for the first time in a desperate attempt to qualify on his own. He’s never won a Ryder Cup match (0-3-5), but he can partner with multiple players already on the squad.

Randall Mell: Matt Kuchar. Davis Love III said: “If somebody is playing well, they aren’t going to get left out.” Kuchar has logged three top-10s since July 1, two of them third-place finishes, including that bronze medal Olympic performance under the American flag. That’s more top-10s this summer than Bubba Watson or Rickie Fowler. Kuchar hasn’t won this year, but five times he has finished fourth or better. Kuchar’s performances have been more steady, consistent and dependable than any other American in this Ryder Cup mix.

Rex Hoggard: Fowler. Although he hasn’t had his best season, he showed flashes of the fire the U.S. will need with a tie for seventh place last week at The Barclays and, if the picks will truly be a collective choice, he would be a locker room favorite.

Will Gray: Fowler. He was believed to have an inside track even before last week’s event, but he showed plenty to Davis Love III for about 68 holes at The Barclays to push his chances from “likely” to something more definitive. While his stumble down the stretch cost him the eighth and final automatic spot, Fowler is a popular guy in the team room, a potential catalyst for the frenzied home crowds and, let’s face it, still the eighth-ranked player in the world. While the battle for the final spot between him and Zach Johnson was an entertaining storyline, it was probably a moot point.


Who is under the most pressure to prove himself?

Lavner: Bubba Watson. How many top-10s on Tour has Bubba had in the past six months? A big, fat zero. Though he seems like an obvious wildcard pick because of his world ranking (No. 7) and length off the tee, he’s driving it all over the map, his short game this season has been abysmal (outside the top 110 in both strokes gained-around the green and -putting) and he poses partnership issues because of his style of play. Throw in a 3-8 career mark in the Ryder Cup, and Watson needs to show something, anything, during these playoffs to warrant a pick.

Mell: Fowler. Fowler got off to that nice start this year with six top-10s in his first nine stroke-play starts, but he is struggling to find his best form since missing the cut at The Players, the first of three consecutive MCs. He doesn’t look steady, consistent or dependable right now, especially with that late collapse under pressure Sunday at The Barclays making his T-7 finish look less appealing.

Hoggard: Bubba. Like Fowler, Watson hasn’t had the best of years - his last top-10 finish was at Doral in March - and the quirky southpaw is an acquired taste for many of his colleagues. If Watson is going to be a unanimous pick, he will need to show he’s worthy.

Gray: Jim Furyk. While the rest of the contenders can view this upcoming stretch as a two-week audition, Furyk needs to bring his best to Boston or risk going home early. After missing much of the season with a wrist injury, a late-season surge leaves Furyk at No. 84 entering this week’s event. Only 70 players will advance to next week’s BMW Championship, meaning that Furyk has some work to do to extend his season. While Love has heaped plenty of praise on Furyk as a potential pick, it’s hard to see him getting the nod if he doesn’t make it to Crooked Stick.


Which player will earn the final Hot Hand pick?

Lavner: Gary Woodland. He’s off to a good start, with a tie for fourth at Bethpage. Woodland has had a solid, if unspectacular, season, ranking 26th in points, but his talent is undeniable. This year’s playoff venues all favor big hitters, and few can pound the ball like Woodland. He tied for 12th last year in Boston, so he should be poised for another climb up the points list.

Mell: Fowler. Almost anything is still possible with Love saying any American still alive in the FedEx Cup Playoffs remains in the running for a captain’s pick. If that’s true, Sean O’Hair, Gary Woodland, Ryan Moore and Jason Kokrak have to be dreaming big after their top-10 finishes at The Barclays. But Fowler gets the pick if he turns that disappointing Sunday at The Barclays into a hot FedEx Cup run. That T-7 at Bethpage Black looks a lot better lined up with two or three other FedEx Cup top-10s.

Hoggard: Daniel Berger. With the pressure off to autoqualify for Hazeltine, expect lasy year's Rookie of the Year to return to his impressive ways.

Gray: Justin Thomas. Thomas got the hard part out of the way, notching a top-10 finish last week at Bethpage Black to likely secure a Tour Championship appearance. He would have factored more heavily in the automatic qualification race had he gotten credit for his win this season at the CIMB Classic, and and he will have plenty of support from Spieth, Fowler and Jimmy Walker. More importantly, Thomas would bring a fresh fire to the biennial competition, and don’t be surprised if he gets the final nod after capping a strong postseason by contending at East Lake. 

Getty Images

Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

Getty Images

Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

Getty Images

Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

Getty Images

Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”