The U.S. Ryder Cup team ... so far

The U.S. Ryder Cup team … so far

With Tiger Woods off the team, Phil Mickelson will be the No. 1 guy for team U.S.A.
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The Ryder Cup is a little more than two months away and there is no buzz. No one is talking about it and no one is writing about it. It used to be included in just about every final-round game story written in the United Kingdom from January on. Not this year. I guess when you have back-to-back blowout snoozers, it’s not big news anymore.

While we’re still two major championships away from the Ryder Cup at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., let’s take a look at how the U.S. lineup is shaking out. Let’s just assume the points list is final now. Here’s who would be on the team:

Phil Mickelson. He won twice this year but fell flat on his face in his big home-game Open at Torrey Pines. With Tiger Woods out with a knee injury, he’s the only guy in the lineup who’s sure to play in all five matches… even though his recent Ryder Cup performances haven’t been all that stellar.

Stewart Cink. He’s been the most consistent U.S. player this season and finally got on the board with a victory recently in Hartford. He’s been a solid match-play performer. He wiped out Sergio Garcia in singles in the last Ryder Cup, one of the few American highlights.

Kenny Perry. With Woods out, count him in as the hottest American. His Buick Open victory last weekend was his second of the year and should have clinched him a spot among the top eight point-getters. He’s a good team guy, popular with just about everyone, and will create an instant (and vocal) rooting section as a native Kentuckian. The Americans needed a local guy on the team. They’ve got one.

Jim Furyk. He has quietly had a solid year despite not winning. He’s always strong in match play, especially in singles, and he toughed it out at the K Club despite a bad back. The U.S. needs him to be at his best for this week.

Justin Leonard. He figured to be a Ryder regular but hasn’t made a team since he holed the putt heard ’round the world in 1999 at Brookline. Surprisingly, there wasn’t more discussion of him as a possible wild-card selection two years ago. Then again, he’s had a career of being underrated. He’s a great clutch putter. The U.S. team has missed him.

Woody Austin. As Aquaman, he became the official team spirit of last year’s Presidents Cup squad. He’ll do anything to help the team, including run through a wall or try to hit a ball underwater, and that attitude (which has been missing from some top players) was infectious. If he doesn’t make the team on points, he’s an odds-on favorite to be a pick by captain Paul Azinger.

Boo Weekley. He’s a younger Woody, another guy who’ll be a total team player and a loyal follower. He might’ve made a good partner for Woods, but his ballstriking makes him easy to partner with anyone.

Anthony Kim. He’s young, he’s confident, he’s long and he can putt. Kim has the makings of a future superstar and it’s great that he can gain some Ryder experience at 22. He’ll bring some young-gun swagger that the Americans haven’t had since Mark Calcavecchia and Ken Green were on the team in ’89.

If that’s your lineup, Captain Azinger, who else do you add with your four wild-card selections? The problem in past years has been that nobody has stepped up in the summer and played well. It’s different this time around.

After a two-year run of the best play of his career, Steve Stricker has slipped into a quick slump. If he has a top-ten finish or two, or plays well in either the British Open or PGA Championship, he’s an obvious pick.

If he can’t break out of his doldrums, though, he’ll understandably have to be passed over. A veteran to replace him as a pick would be former Masters champion Zach Johnson, currently 14th on the points list. Johnson hasn’t won this year, but he makes putts, which is key for winning matches. You want Stricker and/or Johnson on the team, if they’re anywhere near playing well.

The next man on the points list is Brandt Snedeker, who made a nice run at the Masters and finished T9 at the U.S. Open. He hasn’t won this year but he’s got game. Another top-ten finish and he’s a likely pick.

Two to go. The rhyme team of D.J. Trahan and Hunter Mahan might be the ticket. Trahan finished strong at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and held together during the final round. He’s solid tee to green.

Mahan, who teamed well with Stricker in last year’s Presidents Cup, leads the tour in greens hit in regulation, which makes him a solid partner for almost anyone.

So there’s your four picks — Stricker or Johnson (both if they pick it up), Snedeker and Trahan and Mahan. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate needs another high finish, or a win, to make himself a stronger candidate. So does Phoenix winner J.B. Holmes, another Kentuckian who would add to the hometown cheering section.

There’s also Buick Open runner-up Bubba Watson, the biggest hitter on tour right now, who also has a lot of touch around the greens. He hasn’t won, either, but another top-five finish would make him an attractive choice.

That’s how it stacks up. How does the U.S. team look? It may not be loaded with marquee names but unlike the last several teams, Azinger’s new point formula has made a big difference. Nearly every player on the verge of making it on points is in form. That wasn’t true of recent teams. That could prove to be important. If so, give Azinger credit for addressing the team’s No. 1 problem, the selection system.