United States Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin announced his four captain's picks in a press conference at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday morning, going with three seasoned veterans and a 21-year-old rookie without a victory on Tour.
As expected, world No. 1 Tiger Woods led the quartet, joined by Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson and winless but promising Rickie Fowler, the only surprise in the bunch.
"It was tough to sleep last night," Fowler said in a teleconference with all four wildcards. "It was awesome to be selected. I have to thank Corey for giving me the opportunity to go over there."
Fowler and Jeff Overton, who qualified on points, will become the first two Americans to play in a Ryder Cup team without having won on Tour.
Anthony Kim, 16th in the world, was the highest ranked American not chosen to make the trip to Celtic Manor in Wales, site of the Cup, Oct. 1-3. Although he was a leader of the winning American side at Valhalla in 2008, Kim has not made a cut in four tries since returning from a thumb injury last month.
Charley Hoffman, who fired a 62 to win the Deutsche Bank on Monday, was a late addition into the mix of players vying for a pick, but, alas, perhaps too late.
While three-time major champion Padraig Harrington was the lowest-ranked European to be chosen as a wildcard at No. 19, Cink was the lowest-ranked American at 36th. Fowler is close behind, though, at 32nd.
The discrepancy is one of a handful of reasons why the Americans will be big underdogs when the Cup begins in 23 days, despite having won the biennial match in 2008.
Pavin was flanked on the dais Tuesday morning by three of his assistant captains, Paul Goydos, 2006 Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman and Davis Love III, the favorite to land the captaincy in 2012. Jeff Sluman, the fourth assistant, was traveling overseas.
Woods maintained earlier this year that he didn't want to think about needing a captain's pick, but his play was too uneven to make the team on points. He struggled to string four or even three good rounds together in the same tournament, but began to right himself after going to work on his swing with instructor Sean Foley.
A T28 at the PGA, T12 at the Barclays and T11 at the Deutsche Bank, where he shot three rounds in the 60s, showed Woods was trending in the right direction.
"My game's coming around, working with Sean and hitting some better shots," he said in the teleconference Tuesday. "My game is starting to transition."
Woods will continue to fine-tune at this week's BMW Championship, the third tournament of the four-event FedEx Cup playoffs, and, if he gets into the 30-man field, the Tour Championship in Atlanta in two weeks.
Zach Johnson was considered a shoe-in for a pick after he tied for third at the PGA Championship. He was one of the lone bright spots for the Americans in their lopsided Ryder Cup loss at Ireland's K Club in 2006, going 1-2-1 after a foursomes tie with partner Chad Campbell and a four-ball win with Scott Verplank.
"Team play and team sports in general are something that drive me as a competitor," said Johnson, a seven-time Tour winner whose grit likely appealed to American captain Pavin, also an undersized overachiever who won a major.
In their last road game, at the K Club in Ireland, the Americans were throttled 18 1/2 to 9 1/2. In addition to Zach Johnson, Cink impressed with an unforgettable dismantling of European star Sergio Garcia, thumping the Spaniard 4 and 3.
"I think this makes my third time being picked," said Cink, who has put together top-20 finishes in his last four starts. "That might be getting close to being a record. I guess all it means is I'm not very good at making these teams on points."
European captain Colin Montgomerie finalized his team with three captain's picks after the Johnnie Walker Championship, won by Italian Edoaro Molinari on Aug. 29.
Stuck with an overabundance of riches, Montgomerie left off Paul Casey, then ranked eighth in the world, and Justin Rose, twice a PGA Tour winner in 2010.
"At the end of the day this was the hardest European team to get on in the history of the Ryder Cup," Rose said last week. "You needed 250 World Ranking points in a year's period to get on, and I started my run a little late. Two Tour wins got me 112 points, so I needed double that. Edoardo Molinari ended up with only 248 and didn't get in on points. Am I disappointed? Yes. I think I could've contributed to the team."
Pavin had the opposite problem. Zach Johnson was the only American to win on the PGA Tour (at the Colonial) over a two-month span from April 25 to June 27.
Fowler looked like one of America's most promising players all year, but he could not break through with a victory despite coming close in Phoenix and at the Memorial.
Phil Mickelson, who has done little of note on the course since winning the Masters in April, was the only American major championship winner.
Pavin cited Fowler's 7-1 record in two Walker Cups as a deciding factor, as well as Pavin's belief in Fowler's ability to handle the atmosphere of playing on the road.
"It came down to a feeling," Pavin said. "I have a good gut feeling about Rickie."
Fowler seemed to have a feeling, too. Asked at the Deutsche Bank last week about his relationship with fellow Californian Pavin, the former Oklahoma State star Fowler said Pavin had texted him just the night before. The message: Pavin would be watching what Fowler did in Boston. (Fowler would tie for 41st place.)
"There's no guarantees," Fowler said last week. "They're picks for a reason."