AKRON, Ohio – If the United States Ryder Cup points standing remains intact for the next two weeks – and that’s a big if, with every borderline qualifier competing twice and double points at the PGA Championship – there will be an inevitable logjam of possible captain’s picks from which Davis Love III can choose.
Conventional wisdom says Steve Stricker will claim one of the four remaining roster spots, if for no other reason than being a great putter and likely partner for Tiger Woods is a convincing one-two punch. That same conventional wisdom shows that at least the foursome of Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Jim Furyk will push for the other three positions, leaving the captain with some major decisions and a potentially major snub.
And sticking with conventional wisdom for one more logical conclusion, now would be a pretty good time for those candidates to start playing some inspired golf.
That last bit of wisdom should serve as excellent news for Furyk, who opened his campaign at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a 7-under 63 that gave him a two-stroke lead.
A member of each of the last seven Ryder Cup teams, Furyk is very cognizant of what he needs in order to claim one of the eight qualifying positions by next Sunday evening.
“I'd be lying if I said it wasn't on my mind and it hadn't crossed my mind,” he admitted. “I know exactly where I stand. I'm 14th in points.”
Never mind that Furyk actually ranks 15th on the current list. That was just about his only mistake on a day when he posted an eagle and seven birdies to get himself into the top spot on the leaderboard with 54 holes to go at Firestone Country Club.
It’s a welcome change from his recent play. Since contending at the U.S. Open, Furyk has made four starts, resulting in two 34th-place finishes and a pair of missed cuts. Following the last of those at last week’s Canadian Open, he made a beeline for salvation.
“I got in an airplane as quick as I could Saturday morning, went home for about three days, and it felt good to kind of sit on the back porch and relax a little bit,” he said. “I think more than anything I needed a little time to clear my head, think about what was going wrong. It wasn't anything that was going wrong, why I wasn't playing better. I just felt like I needed to come in here and quit concentrating on trying to be so mechanically sound and just go play some golf and try to score and get the ball in the hole a little bit. It worked today.”
It’s working toward helping his overall goal of making the Ryder Cup team again, too, though there’s still a long way to go.
Furyk currently has 2,653.116 points in a format that is based on money earned (major championship earnings are doubled), leaving him more than 1,300 hefty points from the final automatic qualifying place. It’s not an impossible task, but will require continued solid play for the remainder of this week and next.
Not that he can think about it while competing.
“If I were sitting out there on the golf course trying to hit shots worried about the Ryder Cup team, it wouldn't be possible to play well,” he explained. “I'd be lying if I said it wasn't on my mind, but I also know when you're trying to win a golf tournament, if you're just focused on trying to win, it's not going to happen. You have to focus on trying to hit the ball in the fairway, trying to focus on trying to hit a good shot in the middle of the green, trying to knock a putt in and just not get ahead of yourself.
“I'm wise enough to know what my situation is, wise enough to know where I stand, but the only thing I can do to help it is to play well, so I'm focused on playing well and nothing else.”
There’s a long-standing mantra in the game which serves as the easy two-word answer for any player who wishes to claim the spoils that come with success: Play better.
Through one round this week, Furyk is living up to that mantra, playing better than he has since the U.S. Open. If he keeps it up, those spoils may just come in an eighth appointment to play in the Ryder Cup.
For now, though, that’s all he can do. Play better. It’s just conventional wisdom.