Punch Shot: U.S. Ryder Cup wildcard questions


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.