With two weeks remaining for U.S. players to earn Ryder Cup points, here are a handful of truths that we already know:
• Tiger Woods won't have to sweat it out. One year after needing a captain's pick in order to make the Presidents Cup roster and two years after his wild-card selection for the last Ryder Cup, Woods' three victories leave him as a lock to make the team. No controversy, no conjecture. Woods is deserving of his spot on the squad, one which can't be debated this time around.
• Major championships mean major points. Winning a major doesn't automatically mean inclusion on the team. Just ask John Daly, who won two of 'em and never sniffed a Ryder Cup. But Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson have benefited so much that time spent away from the game for new additions to their respective families have hardly been a problem. In fact, don't be surprised if the Masters champion and U.S. Open winner team up as partners once again at Medinah.
• Phil Mickelson has some work to do. The man known worldwide as Lefty is in danger of missing his first Ryder Cup team since his first eligible year as a professional. Well, at least he would be in danger if there was any chance captain Davis Love III wouldn't pick him should he fail to make it on points. But he will if need be, of course, which means that Mickelson's precarious place at seventh on the points standings should be taken with a few grains of salt, his lone top-10 in his last eight starts simply a small speed bump on his journey to the competition for a ninth straight time.
• Multiple wins equate to multiple results. Jason Dufner has two wins this season and he's a lock to make the team. Zach Johnson has two wins and his place is nearly cemented. Hunter Mahan has two wins and he's fighting for his Ryder Cup life. It may be true that all non-major titles are not created equal, but victories alone aren't enough to guarantee a place on this year's team. Mahan remains eighth on a points list that will include eight players after the PGA Championship, despite his wins against strong fields at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and Shell Houston Open.
All of which leads to perhaps the most telling transformation in American golf over the past 24 months.
The red, white and blue is suddenly stacked.
Two years ago, then-captain Corey Pavin was so lacking in potential team members that he called upon fresh-faced 21-year-old rookie Rickie Fowler as one of his four captain's picks – in part as a nod toward the future of the team and in part because there weren't any other attractive candidates.
This time around, it speaks volumes that Fowler is now a PGA Tour champion – at the star-studded Wells Fargo Championship, no less – and it may actually be more difficult for him to make the roster.
As things currently stand, if the same eight players are still in their positions after the PGA Championship, there will be at least one big-time snub.
Just call it a numbers game, as Love will have more than four viable candidates for his four extra picks.
The aforementioned Fowler has proven himself as a winner and solid performer under pressure. Keegan Bradley is a major champion who is coming off a snub at last year's Presidents Cup. After missing a few months due to injury, Dustin Johnson has a win and still isn't too far out of that top eight. Jim Furyk is a traditionally steady performer who would bring consistency and experience to this year's team.
And then there's Steve Stricker, a likely partner for Woods, whose camaraderie with the team's No. 1 points leader may be all the resume massaging that's necessary.
Count 'em up and that's five deserving players for four spots – and that's not even factoring in the likes of Bo Van Pelt, Brandt Snedeker or Bill Haas, each of whom could spoil the party with inspired play over the next two weeks, especially with double points available at the year’s final major.
Those facts belie a greater verifiable truth: American golf at its highest level has rapidly improved in recent years.
Long gone are the days when the likes of Vaughn Taylor, Brett Wetterich and J.J. Henry could sneak onto the roster. No disrespect intended toward those 2006 team members, but none exactly instilled fear in their Euro counterparts, as evidenced by the trouncing they received at The K Club that year.
Earlier this year, one industry insider intimated that a European jayvee team featuring the next dozen who failed to make the Ryder Cup could still beat the U.S. Hey, it’s not impossible. You know the old saying, “On any given Friday, Saturday and Sunday…”
It’s becoming more evident, though, that the U.S. team will hardly serve as a pushover. Yes, the stars and stripes are rounding into a varsity outfit – heavy on the stars.