In about an hour, US Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III will announce his four captain's picks to round out the American side. Here are some last-minute speculations about his likely choices.
Rickie Fowler – My enthusiasm for him, expressed last week, has faded. If the team had been selected on June 1, he'd have been #1 with a bullet, having three Top-5 finishes in May, including a playoff win at the Wells Fargo. But his play has been indifferent lately; he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, managed a T24 at the Barclays, and staggered to a T74 finish at the Deutsche Bank on Labor Day. (Note that only 78 players made the cut.) At Celtic Manor in 2010, he was the youngest player on the American squad, and also the most poised, despite being a Ryder Cup rookie. At this point, I'll say that Love will place the painful phone call to him that he'll have to wait until 2014.
Dustin Johnson – If Fowler has played his way off the team, Johnson might have played his way on with two terrific performances at The Barclays (T3) and the Deutsche Bank (T4). He has one win in the books (the FedEx St. Jude in June) and seven Top-10s; he's missed only one cut all year. Having missed 2½ months due to injury, he's come back strong. He probably gets an invitation to Medinah.
Hunter Mahan – I really wanted Mahan to make the squad, if only to give him a chance to redeem himself after his closing loss to Graeme McDowell in 2010. You can easily make a case for him as a two-time winner on the Tour this year, including the WGC Match Play. But the last time he seriously contended in an event was the AT&T in late June, and weekend rounds of 73-73 forced him to settle for T8 in that event. He's another guy who would be on the team if the selection had been made three months ago, but I think he'll be watching the event on television with the rest of us.
Steve Stricker – It's time to talk about experience. Stricker will bring plenty of that if he gets the nod from Love. He's been on the Ryder Cup team twice and the Presidents Cup team four times. His one win this season was all the way back at the beginning of the year, in the reduced-field Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but he has plenty of Top-10s sprinkled in there, and like Johnson, has missed the cut only once in 2012. He's #10 in the Official World Golf Rankings. It says here that he's in.
Brandt Snedeker – Like Johnson, he's done what he can to play his way onto the team with a charge on the FedEx Cup playoffs in the last two weekends. He finished a solo second at The Barclays and solo sixth at the Deutsche Bank. This year's scorecard includes one win (albeit one way back in January, at the Farmers), a T3 at the Open Championship, and a T9 at the World Match Play. He's #18 in the OWGR, making him the highest-ranked player without a prior reservation for the US side, other than Stricker and Johnson. His putting is lights-out (#1 on the Tour in Strokes Gained-Putting).
Bo Van Pelt – Van Pelt's problem is that the field is too crowded for him. He's enjoyed a solid year, and has $2.6 million in the bank after eight Top-10 finishes. But it's tough to justify selecting him over several guys who have won once (or in some cases twice) on the Tour this year, when he has yet to cash a winner's check. This isn't the year.
Jim Furyk – He played well enough at the Deutsche Bank (T13) to claw his way back into contention for the fourth captain's pick. Of the competitors' credentials, his is the thinnest other than Van Pelt's – no wins and some classic meltdowns this year, including the double-bogey finish on the 72nd hole to lose the Bridgestone in August. The principal counterweight to this is his substantial experience in international-team competition; it's hard to leave off a guy who's playing passably well and who has seven Ryder Cup caps and an equal number of Presidents Cup appearances.
Nick Watney – His win at The Barclays was enough to vault him into contention for a pick, but it's probably too little, too late; he probably needed another Top-5 finish at the Deutsche Bank to push his way onto the American side. He closed with an even-par 71 on Labor Day to finish T20. Beyond that, a pedestrian set of credentials, by these lofty standards.
In my estimate, then, it comes down to Snedeker and Furyk for the last two slots.
By the way, if I were Love, my picks would be Fowler, Johnson, Snedeker, and Mahan. If you want experience-based leadership on the team, some guys named Woods and Mickelson can supply that, in spades. Fowler proved himself to be absolutely without fear in the 2010 matches, and I just can't ignore Mahan's WGC win in the match-play format. Johnson's an easy pick (I'd love to see him up against one of the Euros' long bombers, such as Nicolas Colsaerts). And Snedeker is hot enough to justify a ticket; anybody who can outpace the entire PGA Tour on the greens, gets a spot on my squad.
Over to you, Davis.