More Than a Major at PGA


04 PGA ChampionshipTheres a phrase a few fellas on the PGA Tour are using these days.
Todd Hamiltons saying it. So, too, is Chris DiMarco. And Jay Haas and John Daly and Scott Verplank.
Its nothing new, been around for quite some time. Its clichd to the point where it sounds like a recorded loop handed out to players when they receive their tour cards.
Ask them a certain question and youll get a most certain response.
I just have to play my game, and things will take care of themselves, said Steve Flesch, echoing the sentiments of so many other Ryder Cup hopefuls.
As the start of the 86th annual PGA Championship nears, its now time for a handful of players to play their game and let things take care of themselves.
Come Sunday evening, one player will use both of his hands to lift high the Wanamaker Trophy, which looks like the claret jug on steroids. And others will also claim themselves victorious, as they will officially become members of the United States Ryder Cup team.
The PGA Championship marks the final opportunity for U.S. players to earn Ryder Cup points ' by finishing inside the top 10. The European team will end their points race Aug. 29.
Ten players will call themselves Ryder Cuppers Sunday night, while two more will do so Monday morning, when Hal Sutton announces his captains selections.
Because of the Ryder Cup, that makes this weeks PGA Championship more than just a major ' more than just the final opportunity to win a major this season; it marks the last chance for several players to achieve their dream.
For a player like Jerry Kelly, who said: Making the Ryder Cup is like winning a major, to me. It would be the pinnacle of my career.
And for a player like Fred Funk.
My whole focus is: Ryder Cup, Ryder Cup, Ryder Cup ' do whatever it takes to make that team, said Funk, who was criticized when he skipped the British Open because he felt he had a better chance to earn Ryder Cup points at the B.C. Open.
Funk is in a precarious position right now as he is battling a rib injury as he attempts to retain his position inside the top 10. Hes in the eighth spot right now. Hes not completely secure and safe, but hes better off than Jeff Maggert.
Maggert is 13th on the list and will be unable to push aside those in front of him. He withdrew from the PGA as his wife, Michelle, is due to deliver twins some time this week.
No one knows better the importance of this week, in terms of making the Ryder Cup team, than Maggert.
He tied for third in the 95 PGA at Riviera to move from 12th in the standings to sixth. Two years later, he shot 65 on Sunday at Winged Foot to again earn enough points to make the team.
These players, the top seven on the points list, can go ahead and get sized up for their uniforms: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry, David Toms and Chad Campbell.
Funk would appear to be safe at No. 8, since usually only two players, if any, get bounced from the top 10 during PGA Championship week.
Then it gets interesting.
Flesch is in ninth place, 66 points behind Funk and just five points ahead of Jay Haas. Haas finished fifth at The International to supplant Kelly in the 10th spot; the two are separated by less than three points.
Stewart Cink picked up 40 Ryder Cup points last week to move into the 12th position. He is followed by Maggert, Verplank, DiMarco, Tim Herron, Hamilton, Chris Riley, Jonathan Kaye and Daly.
With 300 points going to this weeks winner, there are still 35 players who mathematically have a chance to break into the top 10 by weeks end. And for those who dont make it on merit, they can hope to play well enough to impress Sutton.
Or, in Maggerts case, hope that his history (he is a three-time Ryder Cup team member) is enough to sway his former partner at Brookline in 1999.
I wouldnt say Id look just at 11 and 12 (in the standings); Id look at about 15 spots right behind the 10th spot, Sutton said.
Im being very open-minded. I want to pick the team that will help us win the Ryder Cup. I want the best 12 players for the team. Im not interested in a popularity contest.
That last statement might have been a dig at Daly. Daly, who has never made a Ryder Cup team, despite having won the 1991 PGA Championship and 1995 British Open in Ryder Cup years, has garnered a lot of popular support thanks to his victory in the Buick Invitational and his runner-up finish at the Buick Open a few weeks ago. But he also may have hurt his chances when he didnt try to qualify for the U.S. Open and decided not to play last week at Castle Pines.
Still, he hopes that a solid performance this week will open up Suttons mind a little more. And hes saying all the right things to convince the Captain that he is a team player.
We've got a very strong team, whether I'm on it or not, said Daly. It would be great if I could be on it, and if I'm not, I'm going to root hard for our team as usual.
Daly is 20th in the standings and would need at least a two-way tie for fourth to have a chance to make the team automatically.
Hamilton did play The International, but was unable to finish in the top 10 and add to his total ' which is comprised solely of his Honda Classic and British Open victories.
At 17th in the standings, he would need no less than a solo seventh-place finish to have a chance to qualify via points.
If I made enough points, that would be awesome. If I were 11th or 12th and got chosen, I would gladly accept it. But if for some reason I got chosen outside the top 12, I'd feel a little uneasy because all the points I accumulated have been in the first seven months of the year, whereas the other guys have played consistently well over two seasons, said a diplomatic Hamilton.
The U.S. started using captains picks to round off their roster in 1989 ' and no captain has ever picked both 11 and 12.
Hamilton said he wouldnt turn down an offer to be on the team, should he finish outside the top 12.
Yes, Id go, Hamilton said with a what-are-you-kidding-me look. Itd be an honor to be on the team.
Similarly, Haas believes that the top 12 should qualify automatically ' That way there would be no controversy, he said.
He significantly bettered his chances of making the team with his most recent performance.
Obviously, Id like to make the team myself. But I need to play well and show Hal that Im capable of competing, Haas said when asked about his chances of being a captains pick should he fail to pick up points this week.
Others a little further down the list ' in points and prominence, like Kaye, wont be holding their breath, sitting by the phone all night Sunday waiting for Suttons call.
I wouldnt expect to be picked by the captain, but its nice to be in a position to have that consideration,' said Kaye, who is 19th on the list.
If I play well, things will take care of themselves.
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