In the Presidents Cup, your two wild-card selections aren’t going to win the Cup for you. If you need them to, then your starting lineup is thinner than Donald Trump’s almost imaginary hairline.
The difference-maker in recent Ryder Cups, for instance, hasn’t been the wild-card choices. It’s been that the Euros usually have more worthy candidates than they know what to do with –15 or 18 players they’d love to have on a 12-man team while the Americans can’t find a dozen players who really belong. When it was time to select the wild-cards, whether it was four choices in years past or even three like it was last time after captain Tom Watson gave one pick back, the cupboard was bare. No one stood out among the remaining players, no one made anything resembling a move to make the team during July and August.
So the Euros have been the better team with their depth, just as the Americans have usually been the deeper lineup in the Presidents Cup.
Still, the one thing Presidents Cup captains Nick Price and Jay Haas can control is their wild-card choices. Each team will select two and they will be announced Sept. 8 after the Deutsche Bank Championship, the halfway mark of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
With two tournaments to go, the point standings could still change significantly. Especially since a win in the FedEx Cup is worth four victories during the season, points-wise, and the Presidents Cup points are based on FedEx Cup points (which were figured wrong, it was recently discovered, and were embarrassingly corrected by the tour).
Still, you’d expect the top six players on the American side to qualify on points: Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson.
The next four are Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Chris Kirk. If any of those four get bumped out of the top 10, they would be obvious wild-card candidates.
So if the standings remain the same, how do the leading contenders stack up?
Bill Haas (11th on the points list). Haas had a poor J&J (June and July) — all missed cuts. He has come to life of late, though, with a fourth-place finish at the Quicken Loans National and a sixth at the Wyndham Championship after also-ran showings at the Bridgestone Invitational and PGA. Two top-10s in the last month? In this group, that qualifies for red hot. The fact that his dad, Jay Haas, is the American captain, plays no role in this except that the smart play — as of now — is that he has to pick his son if he doesn’t make it on points.
J.B. Holmes (12th). Holmes has fired some flashy rounds this season but doesn’t have a top-20 finish in a stroke-play event since he won the Shell Houston Open in April. Holmes is the rare American who has played on a winning Ryder Cup team, that 2008 edition in his home state of Kentucky, but the chill factor of his recent play will have to change in these last two weeks if he’s going to be a pick.
Billy Horschel (13th). Your reigning FedEx Cup champ missed the last Ryder Cup because he got hot after the team was already picked. He enjoyed a nice early-summer stretch — 13th at The Players; 11th at Memorial; 8th in Memphis) but he, too, hasn’t had a top-20 finish since then. He shot a closing 67 at the British Open to climb up to 30th; was 33rd in Akron; 25th at the PGA after a disastrous closing 75 and missed the cut at Wyndham. Horschel, like Holmes, needs to buff up his record in these last two events if he expects to be a pick.
Brandt Snedeker (14th). As one of the game’s better putters, Snedeker is automatically an attractive pick. He had a nice start to the year, winning at Pebble Beach, and was runner-up in May at Colonial. He was eighth at the U.S. Open, missed the British Open cut and was 12th at the PGA. His second-round 61 at the Wyndham, although he closed with 75, did not go unnoticed. Snedeker looks like a guy who’s better than lukewarm.
Webb Simpson (15th). He suddenly put himself in the picture by finishing sixth at the Wyndham after a so-so summer. His previous top-20 finish was back in May when he was runnerup at Wells Fargo. Simpson will have to show us something special before the deadline. Not only is he a dismal 170th in strokes gained putting — you want hot putters in match play, not not-hot putters — but the way he talked his way onto the Ryder Cup team last year ruffled a few feathers. He’ll have to earn this pick.
Charley Hoffman (16th). He should be well-rested, having played only four times in July and August. Pro: He finished seventh in Canada. Con: He barely broke 80 at the PGA, his last outing, shooting 79-78.
Brooks Koepka (17th). Hey, Captain Haas, here’s your arm warming up in the bullpen. Koepka has finished worse than 18th only once since the end of May, and his last five finishes are 10-18-5-6-5. In the last three majors, he placed 18th, 10th and sixth. That tells you something about the way Presidents Cup points are figured that he’s only 17th on this list. He should easily be in the top ten with his record. If you were picking today, he’d have to be one of your two choices.
Robert Streb (18th). Here’s another player who has made a small charge. Streb was second at Greenbrier; 14th at John Deere; 18th at the British Open; fifth in Akron and tenth at the PGA Championship. He definitely merits consideration.
Phil Mickelson (29th). Lefty has only three top-ten finishes this season, a low mark for him. It’s hard to imagine having a Presidents Cup team without him — he’s been on every Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team since 1994, 20 in a row. But he just hasn’t gotten it done enough this year to be a pick. If he wins one of the last two tournaments, then he’s probably on the team. Otherwise, probably not.
Davis Love (71st). That was an impressive win last week for the 51-year-old at Wyndham but it takes more than one good week to earn a spot on this squad.
Tiger Woods (122nd). Nah. You just can’t pick a guy who didn’t even make it to the so-called playoffs, no matter who he is.
The International lineup is solid through eight places — that is, if any of them were bumped out of the top ten, they’d likely be picks.
Jason Day, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama, Branden Grace and Marc Leishman seem solidly entrenched. The others are Anirban Lahiri, Charl Schwartzel, Thongchai Jaidee and Danny Lee.
The top contenders for wild-card spots:
Ben An (11th). Captain Nick Price would love to have another player from Korea (besides Lee) on the team for the matches in Korea to get the home crowd fired up. An is an obvious choice. He’s a former U.S. Am champ who got his breakthrough win on the European Tour this year. An should almost be a lock for one of the two spots.
Steven Bowditch (12th). It’s been an inconsistent season for this Aussie. He missed 11 cuts in 27 events and managed only two top-ten finishes, the last one in May when he won the Byron Nelson. He was a solid 12th in Akron before missing the PGA cut.
John Senden (13th). Senden has always been among the tour’s best iron players but the Aussie isn’t much of a threat on the greens. He’s had a quiet summer since he was 14th at the U.S. Open. He was 40th at the British Open and missed cuts in his last two events.
George Coetzee (14th). A nice seventh-place finish at the PGA lifted Coetzee onto the short list of contenders but he’ll have to do something big in the next two weeks.
Matt Jones (16th). You know this Aussie for his shot out of the hospitality tent during the PGA at Whistling Straits but he’s best known for being good around the greens. He won the 2014 Shell Houston Open with the wildest finish of the year — an unlikely 40-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to tie and then a holed-out long bunker shot to win in a playoff. Jones could be a savvy sleeper pick.
Hiroshi Iwata (18th). He posted an impressive 63 in the PGA but he’ll need to post a few more of those somewhere in the world in the next two weeks… although it might be enticing to add a second Japanese player to the team as a partner for Matsuyama.
Geoff Ogilvy (22nd). The former U.S. Open champ has seen his game improve this season but with only one top-10 finish and only three top-25s in 15 starts, that’s not quite enough to warrant a pick despite his pedigree. The media would love to have him play because he’s one of the best quotes in golf.
Sang-moon Bae (25th). He’d be an interesting choice because at 29, he still hadn’t done his mandatory 20-month Korean military service yet. He agreed to serve it starting shortly and was hoping to make the Presidents Cup team first and get a deferral to play in his home country. He’s 34th on the FedEx Cup list. He’s still got a chance to play his way onto the team.
Ernie Els (27th). The affable Els has already told Price not to feel obligated to pick him. He’s 45 and had no top-10 finishes this season. His switch back to a short putter worked well last year, but this year he’s been struggling — 183rd in strokes gained putting. If chosen, Els would figure out a way to be competitive but right now, he’s a luxury that Price probably can’t afford even though his years of experience would be valuable.
Check back on decision day, Sept. 8. We’ll see then who’s on each team… and who isn’t.