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Punch Shot: Most likely to play himself into a Ryder Cup automatic berth

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Push is coming to shove when it comes to the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Just two events - this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and next week's PGA Championship - for players to wrap up one of the nine automatic spots on the team. We asked our writers, which player outside the top nine in points has the best chance to play his way in?


By JASON SOBEL

Nobody wants to be on this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team more than Keegan Bradley.

OK, so maybe that’s not fair. Maybe there’s no palpable, tangible method for measuring a player’s desire. Maybe other players want it just as much – or even more.

But nobody else outwardly shows it as much, either with their words or their actions. Bradley hardly goes a few sentences without volunteering how much he wants to be part of Tom Watson’s roster at Gleneagles. And he’s put his money where his mouth is, too, flying over to Scotland prior to The Open Championship in order to play the course with the captain and see how it suits his game. (According to Watson, it’s tailor-made for him.)

All of which is well and good, but doesn’t erase the fact that Bradley remains 16th on a points list with only the top nine automatically qualifying.

That could – and maybe should – change this week, as he travels to Firestone Country Club, site of his last PGA Tour win two years ago and a course for which he’s professed his fondness on numerous occasions.

That’s a lot of mojo pointing in Bradley’s favor. For a player who so desperately wants to be on the team, this week looks like an excellent opportunity to make it happen.


 By RYAN LAVNER

OK, so this is a critical stretch for most everyone carrying a PGA Tour card, but it’s especially so for a player like Keegan Bradley. Yes, he’s a former winner at Firestone. Yes, he’s a former winner of the PGA. But the Ryder Cup is coming, now just eight weeks away, and no event in golf jangles his nerves quite like the biennial gathering.

The thing is, Bradley is in danger of missing out. He has played decent this season – a runner-up at Bay Hill, a top 5 at the U.S. Open, a few other top 10s sprinkled in. But he’s winless in the past 104 weeks, and high intensity alone won’t be enough to leapfrog some of the other Ryder Cup contenders.

Bradley knows this better than anyone, which is why he seems most likely to parlay his recent good form – back-to-back top 20s, including a T-4 at the Greenbrier – into an automatic spot. If not, he’ll do enough to warrant a pick. The Americans need as many in-form firecrackers as they can get.


By REX HOGGARD

For some, professional golf’s version of the two-minute drill begins with this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

While technically U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson has until Sept. 2 before he will finalize this year’s team with his three captain’s picks, for many hopefuls the real deadline is just a fortnight away.

Players like Brendon Todd, who may be the U.S. side’s hottest player right now, have this week’s World Golf Championship and next week’s PGA Championship to punch their ticket to Gleneagles in September.

It’s not as though Todd isn’t worthy of one of Watson’s picks. The third-year PGA Tour player has finished outside the top 10 in just two of his last seven starts dating back to his breakthrough victory at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

It’s why Todd has the look of a serious 11th-hour qualifier.

Todd will also have extra motivation to earn his spot onto the team considering the tough decisions Watson will likely face. Currently Tiger Woods (70th on the U.S. points list), Phil Mickelson (11th) and Keegan Bradley (16th) are all potential picks.

It’s a reality that could leave Todd as the odd man out, and why he has the motivation, and talent, to play his way onto the U.S. team.


By RANDALL MELL

Phil Mickelson is due for a nice little run to salvage a disappointing season, and now’s the time to make it. Yeah, he hasn’t won all year, hasn’t had a top-10 finish in a PGA Tour event, either. If you’re handicapping his chances to make the Ryder Cup team on points, you might not like the way the next two weeks set up. Lefty hasn’t had a top 10 at the WGC-Bridgestone since 2008. It has been just as long since he had a top 10 at the PGA Championship. And that’s perfect. Mickelson seems to deliver best when it’s least expected. A nice little run over the next two months can do more than salvage a season. It can still turn it into a memorable one.


By WILL GRAY

There are several players within reach of the U.S. Ryder Cup bubble heading into the final fortnight of qualification, but the player most likely to play his way into the top nine is Brendon Todd.

After playing the Web.com circuit last year, Todd broke through for his maiden win in Dallas in May and has showed no signs of slowing since. His T-39 finish at Hoylake snapped a string of six straight top 20s dating back to his HP Byron Nelson victory, but at a time when many top Americans are struggling to produce results, Todd is providing plenty of them while putting the finishing touches on a career year.

The 29-year-old has an enviable stat line: third on Tour in strokes gained putting, fifth in scrambling and 10th in scoring average. While Firestone and Valhalla are unfamiliar venues for the Georgia product, his current form trumps his relative inexperience and, as he sits only 200 points out of the No. 9 slot heading into this week, Todd will earn his ticket to Gleneagles by mid-August.