NEW YORK (AP) – Davis Love III became the third straight U.S. captain to pick a Ryder Cup rookie, and the first captain since 1997 who had to spend a pick on Jim Furyk.
Love filled out his 12-man team Tuesday by selecting Furyk, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker, one of four Ryder Cup rookies who will be playing in a team competition for the first time as a pro.
Johnson and Snedeker, in effect, played their way onto the team the last two weeks as the only Americans to finish among the top six in both FedEx Cup playoff events. It was a performance that made it difficult for Love to ignore.
“I think we're extremely deep this time, deeper than we've ever been. … There was a lot of guys that played a lot of really good golf,'' Love said. “You can analyze the numbers up and down and back and forth. It was tough to leave really anybody off.''
The Ryder Cup is Sept. 28-30 at Medinah outside Chicago. Even though Europe has dominated this competition since 1995 – it has won six of the last eight times – it has won on U.S. soil only twice in the last 20 years.
The Ryder Cup has never looked stronger on paper. It will feature 24 of the top 36 players in the world ranking, and the Americans have 10 players from the top 20. The U.S. could have been even stronger in the world ranking, except that Love left out Hunter Mahan, a two-time winner this year who is No. 19.
Love had Furyk and Stricker in mind all along, even consulting with them on his four captain's picks.
“I laid it out early on what I thought we needed and we stuck with it,'' Love said. “I need Jim Furyk. I need Steve Stricker. The team will benefit from those guys being in the locker room, being in the team room. Then, you can't argue with the golf that Brandt and Dustin have been playing. I think they matched up well, and it really did kind of lay right out there for us.''
Furyk has qualified for every U.S. team, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, since making his debut at Valderrama in 1997. He might have qualified for this team except for two shots that could have cost him two wins. One was the 3-wood he hooked into the trees on the 16th hole at the U.S. Open, the other was an approach that missed the 18th green at Firestone and led to double bogey.
Stricker is a great putter and good partner for Tiger Woods. This is his third Ryder Cup.
The toughest decision for Love was leaving out Mahan, whose two wins this year included the Match Play Championship when he soundly defeated Rory McIlroy in the final match. Mahan made one of the key putts when the United States last won the Ryder Cup in 2008 at Valhalla, yet he also muffed a chip in the decisive match at Wales two years ago that secured Graeme McDowell getting the winning point for Europe.
Mahan, however, has not shown much life in his game over the last five months. He has only one top 10 since winning the Houston Open, and his form might best be looked at in this regard – he was leading the Ryder Cup standings after the Masters and still didn't qualify.
“It was not really the numbers but how guys were putting and playing,'' Love said. “There were some guys feeling pressure to make the team. Really, since the British and the PGA, a couple of guys have stepped up and really handled that pressure well. That was a big factor, as well.''
The eight Americans who qualified three weeks ago were Woods, Masters champion Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson.
The makes four Americans who have never played in a Ryder Cup – Snedeker, Dufner, Simpson and Bradley. Simpson played in the Presidents Cup last year.
Also left off the team was Rickie Fowler, who two years ago became the first PGA Tour rookie to be picked. Fowler won his last four holes in Wales to scratch out a halve that nearly proved decisive for the Americans. He won on the PGA Tour for the first time this year at Quail Hollow, but has struggled since then, particularly in the majors.
Nick Watney entered the Ryder Cup conversation by winning The Barclays against one of the strongest fields of the year, but he left the conversation just as quickly when he failed to get in the mix at the TPC Boston. Watney has had only one good tournament this year, at The Barclays.
Medinah is likely to favor big hitters, though Love was just as interested in good putters. Snedeker, who rallied from seven shots behind to win at Torrey Pines this year, really showed himself at the British Open by holing big putts on his way to a record-tying 64 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes for the 36-hole lead. He wound up tied for third with Woods.
Snedeker was runner-up at Bethpage Black – a big golf course – in The Barclays, and despite a slow start in the opening round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, he had a 65-67 weekend to finish sixth. He missed five tournaments this year, including the U.S. Open with a rib injury.
“Needless to say, it's been a couple pressure-packed weeks for me but it's all worth it,'' Snedeker said. “I look forward to getting to Medinah and trying to make Davis look like a genius.''
Johnson missed nearly three months with a back injury, including the Masters, yet won the St. Jude Classic in his second tournament back. He is regarded as the most talented young American, having won every year since going from college to the PGA Tour in 2008.
But his record in team competition has been spotty. In his Ryder Cup debut at Celtic Manor in 2010, he lost all three team matches – none even reached the 18th – playing with Mickelson and Furyk, before beating Martin Kaymer in singles. He was Woods' partner for three matches in the Presidents Cup and they won only one of them, mostly because of how Woods played.
But he showed himself the last two weeks by getting into weekend contention. Johnson tied for third at The Barclays, and he was in the next to last group with Woods at the TPC Boston. Johnson tied for fourth.
Europe completed its team last week – McIlroy, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Paul Lawrie, Francesco Molinari, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Peter Hanson, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer. Jose Maria Olazabal used his two captain's picks on Ian Poulter and Nicolas Colsaerts.
Europe will have only one rookie – Colsaerts, one of the game's longest hitters.
“They're going to be tough, they are every year,'' Love said. “I'll tell you this, I love my team.''