Norton, MA—This week’s Deutsche Bank, being played outside of Boston, marks the final chapter in determining who will be on the final checkist of American Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson. The announcement of the final three Captain picks will be finalized the evening of September 2 in New York City.
The speculation of who will be chosen has gone through a myriad of rounds with different names talked about. With every round of golf there are suspects who become prospects and conversely prospects who revert to suspects because of inconsistent play.
Five names are likely being considered for the three positions. Each can make a case but no justification can be more solid than a very high performance this final week at the Deutsche Bank event. For some a top ten placement may suffice, for others nothing less than a victory may be needed to elevate themselves over others.
Watson will have to ponder the replacement for Dustin Johnson who pulled himself out of play because of personal reasons. And there is the lingering health issue of Jason Dufner with an aggravating neck injury.
So what does the crystal ball say on the probable choices?
In order of probable selection …
Positives: Last week’s win at The Barclays brought to full circle his recent play which has been improving rapidly. Final round birdie barrage elevated him ahead of a very tight leaderboard at Ridgewood CC. Strong driver of the ball—for both length and accuracy. Has played in both Ryder Cup and President Cup Matches. Weaknesses: Still had to show he can handle the ultimate pressure of a team match—flubbed chip shot in ultimate singles match against Graeme McDowell at Celtic Manor in 2010 is something that needs to be rectified. Putting is also inconsistent at times. Likely Watson choice on 9/2 – Highly Likely.
Positives: Has played well in both Ryder and President Cup Matches with one appearance in each. A capable partner with Phil Mickelson in both the foursomes and fourball segments. Showed considerable poise in very tight and stress oriented situations. Weaknesses: Play on Tour this year has been inconsistent. Did make the cut last week at The Barclays but was never remotely in contention. Rated #24 in the world rankings but the progress made by the former PGA Champion has stalled—not regressing but not ascending to even greater heights thus far. Likely Watson choice on 9/2 – Good. But not guaranteed—a solid performance at The Deutsche Bank event this week solidifies his participation.
Positives: First and foremost, a gifted putter and in close Ryder Cup Matches that can prove to be a major asset. Has played solid for four of the last five events on the PGA Tour he has played—the exception being a missed cut at The Barclays last week. Weaknesses: Is rated 36th in the world rankings and can often over rely on his putting strike to bail him out from poor ball striking. Likely Watson choice on 9/2 — Good. Cannot afford another missed cut—if that happens other below him will have an opportunity to jump ahead.
Positives: Very underrated player and has demonstrated an appetite for match play success going back to his days as an amateur. Nothing in his game is exceptional but his tenacity in grinding out solid rounds when called upon is an admirable trait and one Watson may decide is needed for tight matches in Gleneagles. Weaknesses: Nothing glaring but like other players on the PGA Tour can be streaky putter. Likely Watson Choice on 9/2 — Needs help but first of all—must play solidly. Missing the cut at The Barclays was a blown opportunity.
Positives: The 2012 US Open champion has played well in the lesser tier events. Weaknesses: Missed cuts at both The Open and PGA Championships, and missed last week’s cut at The Barclays. Likely Watson Choice on 9/2 — Needs solid performance this weekend—likely a top 5 finish will elevate his standing, but Simpson is stuck on the bubble and even if he does play may still be left on the sideline.
Waiting in the Wings …
Brendan Todd — Little discussed but has had a solid year. Only three missed cuts in 23 starts. Todd has shown a capacity to keep himself in the conversation. Likely will need a top 3 finish to keep Watson interested. Has the game to do it.
Harris English — Through the middle of 2014 was keeping his name in the mix—but recent form has been most concerning. Like a few of the others, it will take a top tier performance this week that says he is returning to the earlier form he showed a few months back.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.