In the game of golf, your success can be summarized by a single number that determines whether or not you “made the cut.” One’s immediate future rides on a single number – except every two years when the European and American teams for the Ryder Cup are assembled. Instead of the twelve openings on the team being determined by accumulated points, only the top nine are guaranteed spots; the last three are “captain’s picks.”
This gives each team captain the leeway to seed his team with a player who may be especially hot heading into the Cup. Furthermore, it allows him to add a veteran star that may not have played a great deal or well enough to earn his way onto the team.
Some captains simply defer their wild card picks and let the points decide. However, the power to play with fate is often too tempting to resist for many captains, leading to much speculation from fans about which lucky sportsmen will be invited to compete for the Ryder Cup.
2014 Team Europe
For the defending cup champions, the Europeans, most of the positions have unofficially been filled by athletes whose total points make them impossible to dethrone. These stars include Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Thomas Bjorn and Luke Donald. Also on the list is the Frenchman Victor Dubuisson who played his way into the finals of the Accenture Match Play Championship. Of course, this leaves room for a dark horse to establish a spot for himself on the team.
One name that may soon be added to the above list is 38-year old Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who is enjoying the best stretch of golf in his career. While he isn’t playing his best golf at the moment, he has been good enough to get a look from Captain Paul McGinley should he tumble out of a locked spot.
Also in the running is Titleist spokesman Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, former U.S Open Champion. Though they may not bringing the heat like they once did, Poulter and McDowell are playing well enough that they may yet finish in one of the nine exempt spots.
Lee Westwood is the real wild card on the European side. He has played in every Ryder Cup since 1997 and the former number one is a stalwart of the European team’s success in that time. However, he is struggling to stay among the Top 125 players in the world as of late, perhaps giving Captain McGinley reason to pause before repeating tradition.
2014 Team America
On the American side seven players have solidified their positions on the Ryder Cup team in the point standings: Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker. Jockeying for the final positions are Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Brendon Todd, Chris Kirk and Ryan Moore.
Also just outside looking in is Phil Mickelson, currently at number 11 in the standings. The greatest left-handed player of all time has qualified for nine consecutive Ryder Cups. Interestingly enough, no American has ever done so ten times – the equivalent of 20 years of sustained excellence. Only Ireland’s Christy O’Connor has made ten teams in a row on merit for the European side. Mickelson would surely love to bring his Callaway golf gear to the Ryder Cup a clean 10 times in a row, although he has yet to win in 2014. Phil has played a number of good rounds in big tournaments, but hasn’t been able to put 72 holes together. Even if he does not make the Ryder Cup with his clubs, he will be heavily considered be a pick of American captain Tom Watson.
Then the biggest question mark rests on Tiger Woods. Sidelined by injury and inconsistent at best on the course in his comeback, Woods has shown nothing of the form of a Ryder Cup player. But, being Tiger Woods, if healthy, it may be too much to leave him off the roster.
The main thing is that, unless he wins the upcoming PGA Championship or the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger will not qualify for the FedEx Cup tournaments at season’s end. That would mean he could only play in lesser tournaments in Europe for the remainder of the year.
Whichever way captain Watson goes on Woods, it will be one of the most intriguing picks the Ryder Cup has seen to date. No matter who plays for each team, we’re sure to see some quality golf.