The Ryder Cup outlook changed faster than you can say Hunter Mahan.
The beleaguered American lineup, already minus Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods and probably Jason Dufner, is starting to look a little better. Not that the loaded European team is going to lose any sleep over it yet.
Mahan came out of a yearlong funk at the right time. He was 15th in Akron, seventh at the PGA Championship after a 65-67 finish, and had an impressive win at the Barclays. Mahan’s putting was spectacular in the final round. That’s just the kind of hot hand a Ryder Cup captain is looking for because the Ryder Cup is as much a putting contest as anything else.
Mahan’s run makes him a virtual lock for one of captain Tom Watson’s three wild-card choices.
Three weeks ago, Watson had a slew of uninspiring choices in what looked like another summer where no American player made a move to play his way onto the team. Now, Watson actually has some candidates to pick from.
Besides Mahan, Brandt Snedeker seems like a wild-card frontrunner. Yeah, that’s SNEE-decker from the amusing credit card commercials he and Watson have appeared in. Snedeker woke up just in time, too. He was 12th in Akron, 13th at the PGA and made a run at the Wyndham Championship before finishing fifth. Okay, he missed the cut at Barclays but Snedecker is considered among the best putters on Tour. Again, that’s a key to Ryder Cup success. He’s also got one Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup under his belt. It seems like his name may already be penciled in on Captain Tom’s short list.
Who else? Watson’s third choice is going to be more difficult.
Webb Simpson had two good finishes in events with weak fields -- third at the Greenbrier and fifth at the Wyndham. But he missed the cut at the British Open, the PGA and the Barclays. His last win was in Las Vegas 10 months ago. He needs to come up big this week.
Brendan Todd had a good early summer, winning the Byron Nelson and then racking up three more top-five finishes. He’s a terrific scrambler, the kind of player who’s difficult to beat in match play. He stepped forward with a 66-69 start at Barclay’s but stepped right back with a 71-76 finish. Todd finished 12th on the Ryder Cup points list but, uh-oh, hasn’t finished better than 39th in his last four starts.
Keegan Bradley has Ryder Cup experience, a PGA Championship title on his resume and a bit of history as a good running mate for Phil Mickelson. Bradley clearly isn’t hitting on all cylinders, however. He’s had his moments -- fourth at the U.S. Open, Greenbrier and Firestone, and 19th at the British Open. The last two starts have been a missed cut at the PGA and 53rd at Barclays. He’s a question mark but a question mark with a pedigree.
Bill Haas, a former FedEx Cup champ, has put himself into the mix with a couple of good weeks, second at Wyndham and 15th at Barclays.
Ryan Moore was 11th on the points list, just missing an automatic selection. From Hartford through Firestone in early August, he had four straight finishes of 12th or better. He finished 40th at the PGA and missed the cut at Barclays. What’s that mean? It means he needs a big week at Deutsche Bank.
The Deutsche Bank winner, if it’s any American who was among the top 30 on the Ryder Cup points list, may slam home the third wild-card pick. It’s that close.
In other better news, Ryder Cup automatic qualifiers Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk and Patrick Reed contended at the Barclays, a good sign for captain Watson. Jordan Spieth has had a quiet summer but he closed out his Barclays with a 67. Rickie Fowler had another good finish after a rock-solid but winless summer.
In short, right now is the best the American lineup has looked all year.
They may not be quite the underdogs they looked like in July.
Let’s go the Van Cynical Mailbag:
Cynical One, Everyone wants to know who Tiger’s next coach will be or if he’ll hire one at all.
--Chris Folds via Twitter
A better question? Who will be Tiger’s next doctor? I think Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee may have hit a nerve with his repeated assertions that the Foley swing lead to or accelerated Tiger’s back problems. Of course, with the torque Tiger has generated throughout his career, maybe that was a given but don’t forget, he was Mr. Gym Workout whose regimen was supposed to prevent injuries. Tiger won’t be in a rush to officially sign on a new coach. I think he’ll go it alone for a while or lean on some of his swing-oriented friends, like maybe John Cook or even Notah Begay. Any names of actual coaches being thrown around are pure speculation. I do not expect Tiger to go back to his old coach, Butch Harmon. There was an unconfirmed Tour rumor that a member of Tiger’s camp reached out to Butch earlier this year about a possible reunion and Harmon wasn’t interested. I’m pretty sure that bridge burned past extra crispy a long time ago.
Van Cynical, Since it worked for Rory, should Tiger Woods dump his famous girlfriend?
--Brad Ford via Twitter
Very clever, Brad To The Bone. Rory had a lot of issues at once. He also dumped his management team and his equipment company and I wouldn’t say any of those are among Tiger’s specific problems. What Tiger needs is a bionic back and two new knees.
Sickle, When is the FedEx sponsorship over and would any other brand step in to keep it alive?
--Michael Abbass via Twitter
The folks at FedEx are in for about $50 million a year through 2017. I was mildly surprised when they re-upped in 2012, given the pressure by investors for publicly traded stocks to perform. Whether another brand would step in if FedEx bails is impossible to answer. FedEx apparently thinks the money is worth it. Another company might, too, if its CEO was an avid golf nut.
Vans, How do you see Patrick Reed fitting into the team format given the negative stories about him from college and that WGC win? And good luck in the U.S. Senior Amateur.
--Jeff BSF via Twitter
Reed’s Ryder mates will ignore his past baggage and treat him as he treats them once they bond in the team room. Reed wouldn’t be the first iconoclastic loner to find love and happiness in the team concept and come out a better person and a better player on the other end. Ken Green, Ken Brown, Mark James and Bubba Watson come to mind. I think Reed will be fine under Phil Mickelson’s up-with-people spirit.
Sickle, Who will be the three European picks. It’s not easy with Poulter, Westwood and Luke Donald all playing below average?
--The Bogey Train via Twitter
It would take a gutsy captain to pass up Poulter, Westwood and Donald, who are all within the top 16 on the European team’s world points list, in favor of the likes of Stephen Gallacher, Joost Luiten, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Francesco Molinari, Bernd Wiesberger or Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. The short games of Donald and Poulter make them easier decisions for Paul McGinley but I wouldn’t be surprised if he sticks with the chalk and still takes all three.
Van Sickle, What are the chances of the PGA Tour doing a night golf tourney with night-vision adapted TV cameras?
--Brian Bailey via Twitter
That’s been tried a couple of times, notably the Tiger versus Sergio Garcia night-time match on a lighted desert course. I don’t see it happening again. The high production costs far outweigh the potential ratings for any prime-time golf telecast with or without Tiger. All those multiple shadows don’t make for good camera shots, either. It’s just as easy to play the golf in the daylight, tape it and show it at night, or tee it up late in Hawaii. I’m not sure the camera technology is there yet for night golf, either.
Van Cynical, Since you made it through qualifying, what are your odds to win the U.S. Senior Amateur championship?
--Kirby via email
No odds but I am listed in the Hell Freezes Over First category.
Tweet your Van Cynical Mailbag questions to Gary Van Sickle on Twitter, @garyvansickle.