CARMEL, Ind.—This is not what the PGA Tour marketing folks had in mind.
“I only had two goals this year, the Olympics and the Ryder Cup,” Bubba Watson said Friday after a second-round 67 here at the BMW Championship. “Those are the only things I cared about.”
One down, one to go for Bubba. He played in the Olympics and marched in the Opening Ceremony but didn’t get a medal.
The Ryder Cup? Well, he didn’t make the team on points. Now he’s hoping to be one of Davis Love’s four captain’s picks. He’s been colder than an ice-road trucker most of the summer — you’ve got to play pretty poorly to win at Riviera and still not be one of the top eight Ryder Cup points-getters — but now he’s heating up. Just in time, he hopes, and not too late.
“I finally made some putts today,” Watson said. “I’ve haven’t made any putts for two months.”
The FedEx Cup, which culminates at the Tour Championship in Atlanta in two weeks, is getting overshadowed by the Ryder Cup, not to mention the opening games of the National Football League season.
Watson is not alone in his Ryder Cup quest. While only the top 30 on the points list after the BMW Championship reach Atlanta — and only the top five on that points list control their own destiny to win the $10 million first prize — only four more players will join the U.S. Ryder Cup team. That’s a short list.
Daniel Berger is at six under here, eight shots off Roberto Castro’s and Dustin Johnson’s 36-hole lead, and he’s confident he’s not on the Love’s short list of candidates. Love will announce three of his picks on Monday and has the option to hold one in reserve until after the Tour Championship.
“I haven’t been thinking about it at all,” Berger said. “Basically zero. Look at the guys ahead of me — Rickie Fowler, Bubba, Matt Kuchar, J.B. Holmes. I just rattled off four names in 30 seconds. I’d basically have to win this week.”
Jim Furyk and Ryan Moore are two more names that may be in the mix. Or maybe Berger has it right.
This is the week to impress Love, and all Holmes did Friday was post seven birdies and an eagle on his scorecard for 65, after he three-putted for bogey on his final hole.
Holmes is the rarest of all candidates—one of the few Americans who has played on a winning Ryder Cup team. He was one of Paul Azinger’s captain’s picks in 2008 for the matches held at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. That course was a big-hitter’s track, plus Holmes was a native Kentuckian and had played quite a few rounds at Valhalla.
He had a sense he was probably going to be picked then. This year, he doesn’t know, but he decided he should quit worrying about it. The Ryder Cup was starting to get in his way.
“I think I was focusing on it too much in the prior weeks,” Holmes said. “The last few weeks, I’ve been able to refocus and I’ve let it go. Obviously, it’s in the back of my mind. I definitely want to make the team but it’s out of my hands. All I can do is play the best golf I can.”
You think it’s easy to not think about something? Think again.
“A lot of players go through this,” he said. “I knew I was focusing too much on it but it was hard to get my brain to stop thinking about it. So I needed to get into my routine, just one shot at a time, and control what I can control and let go of everything else. It’s easy to say, hard to do.”
Furyk and Phil Mickelson are the only other players from that ’08 squad who could play on this year’s squad. Mickelson is already on the team. Furyk, who shot a record 58 last month in Hartford, would have to be picked to play, though he is already headed to Hazeltine as one of Love’s vice captains.
“I talked to Paul all year in ’08, and there was a unique situation where I played that course a whole lot and really knew it,” Holmes said. “I was fortunate enough that Paul picked me. He’d said he was definitely looking at me, so I thought there was a chance.”
His highlight of that week was bombing a drive on the 17th hole in his singles match and sticking a wedge shot to about a foot to get the victory.
“At the time, it looked like my match was going to be the one to clinch it,” Holmes said. “After that, we turned some matches but that was the best moment for me.”
It was a big week for the U.S. That was the only American Cup victory this century and the first time the Americans led in the Ryder Cup after every session since 1979.
Kuchar and Fowler have always figured to be strong candidates to be added to the team. Kuchar won the Olympic bronze medal in Rio and is making a case for a spot this week. Friday, he racked up eight birdies and overcame two doubles to shoot 69.
Who will Love pick? Check back Monday.