The best event in the golf calendar is just a month away. This morning, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal selected Englishman Ian Poulter and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts to round out the Euros' side in the 2012 Ryder Cup matches, to be held at Medinah Country Club, outside Chicago, September 28-30.
Olazabal is going to catch some grief for taking rookie Colsaerts over veteran Padraig Harrington, and some wags are going to insist that that choice reflects a carry-over grudge from 2003, when Olazabal and Harrington disagreed over Olazabal's desire to fix a ball mark. But I think the captain made the right call. The team already has loads of Ryder Cup experience – every player other than Colsaerts has played in Ryder Cup matches before – and Colsaerts is a budding star whose length will help enormously at Medinah. His selection was hardly a stretch; he's ninth on the European Points list, but wasn't among the ten automatic qualifiers because of the two-tier selection system that the European side employs.
Poulter, of course, was an easy choice. He's devastating in match play, having won two world championships in that format since 2010, and he has a dazzling Ryder Cup record of 8-3. Olazabal referred to the near inevitability of Poulter's selection at Monday's press conference: "I think every one of you pretty much guessed that Ian was going to be there. . . . The two times I had the opportunity to share a few moments with him at Valhalla and Celtic Manor, you didn't need to motivate him. Just by looking at his eyes you could see he would give everything he had during that week."
Colsaerts and Poulter fill out a formidable team that includes six players in the top 14 of the Official World Golf Rankings. More important, it includes a number of players whose careers are on the rise, such as world #1 Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari, and Martin Kaymer, in addition to Colsaerts. Sergio Garcia played his way onto the team with a win at the Wyndham and a T3 at The Barclays in the past two weeks; and Paul Lawrie, who will be the oldest man inside the ropes, has resurrected his career, thirteen years after his win at Carnoustie in the Open Championship.
Attention now shifts to the western side of the Atlantic, where American captain Davis Love III will have another week to make his selections for the final four slots on the US side. The Americans are hardly overmatched; they feature six of the top 12 in the OWGR, and that figure could rise if Love selects Steve Stricker, currently #10. The guys currently on the bubble include Hunter Mahan (#9 in US Ryder Cup points), who's probably desperate to atone for his closing loss to Graeme McDowell in the 2010 matches; Stricker (#10); Jim Furyk (#11); and Rickie Fowler (#12). But Brandt Snedeker (#13) has fought his way into the picture with four sub-par rounds at The Barclays for a solo second-place finish. Nick Watney staked a claim with an impressive win at The Barclays. And Love will not overlook Dustin Johnson's closing 68 at The Barclays to finish T3; he's missed only one cut in 2012.
Handicapping the likely captain's picks while there's still an event to go is a dicey proposition, but in my view, Fowler is in unless he injures himself; Snedeker will get the nod if he plays reasonably well at the Deutsche Bank this weekend.
If you could make the team based on past performance, Stricker would be a shoo-in; he largely carried the American side to a near-miraculous comeback in 2010. His fortunes had slipped a tad with some poor weekend performances in the middle of the season, but he's turned that around with three Top-10s in his past five events (including the PGA Championship). He, too, has missed only one cut all season; it says here that he gets one of the picks.
That leaves one slot, assuming Snedeker acquits himself reasonably well in Boston. There are, in my mind, three primary contenders: Mahan, Watney, and Furyk.
Mahan, despite being ninth in points, is actually in a precarious position; he's missed the cut in his last two events, and his last Top-10 finish was a T8 at the AT&T on July 1. Still, he does have two wins this year, and one of those was – importantly – the WGC World Match Play Championship in February. Because the Ryder Cup is nothing but match play, that probably gives him a bit of an edge in the selection process.
Watney's win last weekend will give his name much more prominence than it would have if his victory had occurred in, say, May. But he's way, way down the Ryder Cup points list – #30, in contrast to Mahan's #9 and Furyk's #11. He missed the cut at the PGA with an 82 on a brutal Friday, and has only four Top-10 finishes this season. He probably needs another win, or a near-win, at the Deutsche Bank to grab the prized invitation.
The other likely contender for that slot – barring a Deutsche Bank win by someone like Johnson or Bo Van Pelt – is Furyk. He's played better this year than he did last season, although that isn't saying much. But he's demonstrated virtually no ability to close the deal. Exhibit A to that indictment is his final-hole collapse at the Bridgestone in early August, to lose an event that he had in hand. And three missed cuts in his last six events, including one at The Barclays, do not bode well.
If either Mahan or Furyk posts a strong showing at the Deutsche Bank, that player should have the edge for the last captain's pick. The other one will likely receive a phone call that Love wishes for all the world he didn't have to make.