ATLANTA – This year’s edition of the Ryder Cup hasn’t even started yet, but already U.S. captain Davis Love III is looking like a genius.
That’s because entering the final round of the Tour Championship, both Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk – the two most controversial of his four wildcard selections – are in contention to win the tournament and the FedEx Cup first prize of $10 million.
That kind of cash could buy plenty of extra ping-pong balls for the team room.
With only days remaining before the festivities begin at Medinah, it leads to the question: Is Love really that smart or are his players just making it look that way?
“I think we both felt a little extra pressure to play well this week. You always want to make sure that your captains look good,” Snedeker explained after firing a third-round 6-under 64. “We know how you guys [in the media] like to write it up if we're not playing great. And we definitely wanted to make sure he looked smart going into the Ryder Cup.”
Call it perfect timing.
Playing some of the best golf of his career couldn’t have come at a better time for Snedeker. As one of the top five in the FedEx Cup points standings prior to the season finale, he controls his own destiny, meaning a win on Sunday would earn him two trophies.
Don’t underestimate the role that being named to the team has played in his performance this week.
“I think it's definitely taken a weight off my shoulders,” said the Ryder Cup rookie. “After being named to the Ryder Cup team, I didn't get back into the swing of things, so last week was great to kind of get refreshed and get my mind where it needs to be to try to win this golf tournament.”
Through 16 holes of his third round, Furyk was also tied for the Tour Championship lead, setting up a potential final-round pairing of captain’s picks.
Then he stepped to the 17th tee.
After hitting his first drive into the water that guards the hole’s left side, he reteed and bounced the next one off the roof of a corporate tent, then found a greenside bunker before pitching on and two-putting for a regrettable triple-bogey.
“I played solid. I mean, I was in the lead the entire day,” explained Furyk, who entered the day with a one-shot advantage on the field. “Got to 17. Was a little uncomfortable on the tee shot, and hit a bad double cross. Kind of guided it out there, instead of making a good swing, and then my head was spinning. Didn't really settle myself down into the second swing. Blew it way right and ended up not really hitting a good four shot, average bunker shot. Hit a great putt, but it didn't go in and added up to 7.”
Despite his troubles on the penultimate hole, Furyk remains very much in the hunt. His third-round score of 2-over 72 leaves him in a share of fourth place going into Sunday, three strokes behind the leaders.
If there’s solace for the captain who picked him, it’s that one poor hole doesn’t affect the result nearly as much in the Ryder Cup’s match play format. If there’s solace for Furyk, it’s that he played well for the rest of the round.
“I played 17 good holes,” he said. “I didn't score the way I wanted to, but it's easier to put that one hole behind me than if I had shot 72 and made 6 bogeys today and kind of struggled around the golf course.”
Somewhere on Saturday, Love must have been doing some leaderboard watching, smiling to himself about Snedeker and Furyk in contention, especially on the heels of a third selection, Dustin Johnson, posting top-10 finishes in each of the first three playoff events. Additionally, the three aforementioned close calls – Mahan, Fowler and Watney – are each currently outside the top-15 in this week’s 30-man field.
It’s enough to make Davis Love III look like a genius already – before the real test has even begun.