With three-fourths of year's majors behind us, there are really just three marquee golf events left in this calendar year. There's the PGA Championship, the least heralded of golf's four majors but a major nonetheless. There's the FedEx Cup playoffs, the richest thing in golf that attracts the world's best players because heck, wouldn't you want to win $10 million?
And then there's the Ryder Cup, an event that stokes national (and continental) pride, and one that brings out a beautifully fiery side in players you just don't otherwise see.
This year's U.S. vs. Europe competition will take place just over two months from now on Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National outside Paris. Each team will have eight automatic qualifiers, the likes of whom are determined by a points system that wraps up after the Northern Trust, a FedEx Cup playoff event, and the European Tour's Made in Demark, both of which finish on Sept. 2. Then, Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn will each pick four players as captain's picks.
Here's how the U.S. standings are determined:
• For the 2017 major championships, every $1,000 earned results in one point
• For the 2017 Players Championship and four World Golf Championship, every $2,000 earned results in one point
• For every non-opposite field and non-major PGA Tour event from the Sentry Tournament of Champions through the Northern Trust, every $1,000 earned results in one point
• For the 2018 major championships, every $1,000 earned results in two points
Quite clearly, the PGA and first three FedEx Cup playoff events will go a long way in determining who claims those final auto-qualifying spots. Still, now feels like a good time to do a deep dive into the current American roster picture. We'll group players into three categories: the locks, the bubble, and the long shots.
3. Patrick Reed 7,740.630
8. Webb Simpson 4,277.808
Brooks Koepka - The two-time U.S. Open winner all but clinched his spot on the team with his win at Shinnecock, as he earned roughly 4,400 points from that event alone. It'll be Koepka's second Ryder Cup after he put forth a very solid 3-1-0 performance at Hazeltine.
Dustin Johnson - The world's top-ranked player has been the most consistent golfer on the planet since the last Ryder Cup, British Open aside. He's played in three Ryder Cups—2010, 2012 and 2016, as he missed 2014 due to his absence for "personal issues"—and has a 6-5-0 record.
Patrick Reed - The 2018 Masters winner would be a lock for captain's pick even if he didn't qualify on points...but he's going to qualify on points. Reed earned his "Captain America" nickname from his animated and fantastic play at both Glen Eagles and Hazeltine. Who can forget the all-time match against Rory McIlroy? This will be Reed's third Ryder Cup, and he's compiled a 6-2-1 record. An absolute lock—the guy lives for the Ryder Cup. Will likely partner up with Jordan Spieth.
Justin Thomas - World No. 3 will make his Ryder Cup debut at Le Golf National, and he's the only Ryder Cup contender who flew over to play the French Open and get a look at Le Golf National (he finished T-8). Thomas will likely partner with Rickie Fowler, as they teamed up to go 2-0-1 at last year's Presidents Cup.
Bubba Watson - His game doesn't seem to fit Le Golf National, which will be tight and put a premium on hitting fairways, but he's the only player on Tour with three wins this season. He's struggled pretty significantly in Ryder Cups, however, posting a 3-8-0 record in three appearances.
Jordan Spieth - Sure, he's struggled (by his standards) this year, but you simply don't leave a player of his caliber off any team. Plus, he showed signs of a turnaround at Carnoustie, and you'd be foolish to doubt whether the three-time major winner will bounce back sooner rather than later. Spieth has a 4-3-2 record in two Ryder Cup appearances, including going 2-1-1 as a 20-year-old in a losing effort at Glen Eagles 2014.
Rickie Fowler - In some danger of falling out of the top 8, but Rickie is too good of a putter and too much a part of the young American core to leave off the team. His 2-4-5 record in three Ryder Cup appearances leaves something to be desired—also, why so many halves?!
Tiger Woods - He's all the way down at 20th in the standings, but he's a healthy Tiger Woods. Plus, he's got four top-6 finishes in 12 official starts this year and looked every bit good enough to win a major at last week's British Open. His 13-17-3 career Ryder Cup record is often cited as a blemish on his legacy, but all I see is a plethora of experience and a 4-1-2 mark in singles, when he doesn't have to rely on anyone else. Tiger's become a mentor to so many of these young players—Thomas, Spieth, Fowler—that they'll want him there, and not just in the assistant captain role he's already agreed to. I know Furyk said Tiger's not a lock to be a captain's pick, but after Carnoustie I believe he absolutely is. Health-dependent, of course.
Phil Mickelson - Lefty would do Furyk a real favor by sneaking into the top 8, because Mickelson's going to be a controversial captain's pick. Early in the season, he looked to have returned to past form, including his first win in five years at the WGC-Mexico, but the last month has seen Mickleson struggle with his form and, famously, his temper. Still, Mickelson is third on Tour in birdie average (4.46 per round) and sixth in total putting. He's struggled with big numbers this year, but those don't hurt nearly as much in match play. He'll be on this team, whether he earns his place via points or not.
Nine of the 12 spots are basically spoken for, which leaves three captain's picks...
Webb Simpson - The current holder of that eighth and final spot right now is Simpson, who has a number of things going his way. First and foremost he has Ryder Cup experience, which is always crucial when playing away. Simpson played on the 2012 and 2014 teams, going a meh 2-3-1 in the process. He's got that big Players Championship win this season, a tournament in which he dominated the best field in golf. And his game is a pretty good fit for Le National.
Bryson DeChambeau - The quirkiest player on Tour has played himself to the brink of the Ryder Cup team. The world No. 23 has six top-10 finishes this year in 18 starts, including a win at the Memorial. One concern I have is, the guy is an easy target for heckling—he brought out a compass at a PGA Tour event!—and doesn't seem to have the thickest skin in the world. Those aren't ideal qualities for an away Ryder Cup as a rookie. But he can remove any doubt with a strong finish to the season, particularly at the PGA in two week's time. One more thing to keep in mind: DeChambeau won the 2015 U.S. Amateur, which speaks to his match-play know-how.
Matt Kuchar - Kuch has been a fixture on U.S. national teams of recent, but the perennial top-10 machine has just four top-10 finishes in 18 starts this season and hasn't finished better than T-8. Consequently, he's dropped to 12th in the point standings and sits on the outside looking in. He's got experience, going 6-7-2 over the last four Ryder Cups. He's still a great putter. His accuracy-first ballstriking is a good fit for Le Golf National. But he hasn't contended in any tournament this season, really. It'll be fascinating to see if Furyk prioritizes steadiness and experience over top-level performance with his picks, because the other bubble guys' best has been better than Kuchar's best this season.
Zach Johnson - He's rounding into form at just the right time, with four straight top-20 finishes, but playing the weekend in four over at Carnoustie did not help his chances at all. He's a very good putter and a very experienced player, with a 8-6-2 record in five Ryder Cups, but he just hasn't played well enough this year (yet) to warrant a spot.
Tony Finau - He's the only player in the world to have finished in the top 10 of all three major championships so far this season. That is absolutely nothing to scoff at. He's a charismatic, level-headed competitor whose attitude would seem to project well in a team competition. But his power game isn't a great fit for Le National, and he just doesn't have much match-play experience. Finau's chances of being picked will largely depend on who gets that eighth qualifying spot. If it's an experienced guy like Simpson or Mickelson, he has a better chance than if it's DeChambeau or Xander Schauffele, just because you don't want to take too many rookies to France.
Xander Schauffele - He has some really impressive finish in huge events this season—T-2 at the Players, T-2 at the British Open and T-6 at the U.S. Open. It's no coincidence, then, that he's up to No. 18 in the world. Like Finau, Schauffele doesn't have much match-play experience, and like Finau, his chances largely depend on how many rookies Furyk wants to take. His good weeks are very good, but his bad weeks are pretty bad—he's just 62nd in scoring average and 131st in bogey avoidance. That's eye-opening—what if one of his bad weeks comes at the worst time? A win at Carnoustie would have all but secured him a spot on this team, among many other things.
Kevin Kisner - He moved all the way up from 19th to 13th in the standings with his T-2 finish at Carnoustie, but that good week was a bit of an aberration from his recent play. His six finishes before the British Open: 55, MC, T-74, T-52, MC, MC. Kisner's a gamer and he's really good friends with the Spieth-Thomas-Fowler crew, which bodes well, but he needs to play well down the stretch to get have a real shot of getting picked.
Patrick Cantlay - It's pretty surprising to see him all the way down at No. 28 in the standings, as it feels like he's been the next 20-something ready to break out for quite a while. Incredibly, he's ranked higher in the world golf ranking (No. 27) than the U.S. Ryder Cup standings! A remarkably consistent player who's missed just two cuts over the past two seasons, Cantlay could be one top-5 finish away from convincing Furyk that he's worthy of making this team. Like DeChambeau, he could be an easy target given his maddeningly-long pre-shot routine.
Kevin Na - He has four top-6 finishes in his last seven starts, including the emotional win at the Greenbrier. He's a streaky putter who could really help this team...if he's on one of his good streaks. Given what he's been through, making this team would mean the absolute world to Na, but his lack of consistency means he'd likely have to make it on points.
Brian Harman - Harman finds a boatload of fairways and greens and is pretty solid in every aspect of his game, but he lacks that wow factor that you're looking for in a captain's pick. Probably needs to qualify on points with a win or a couple top-3's down the stretch.
Longer shots: Kyle Stanley, Beau Hossler, Kevin Chappell, Charley Hoffman, Aaron Wise, Luke List, Daniel Berger
Can't state this enough: the PGA and FedEx Cup playoffs are going to have a huge impact on who makes this team, both in terms of the points standings and in showing who's carrying good form. But if the team had to be selected today, here's my best guess as to the 12 that would represent the red, white and blue. Reminder that this is who I think Furyk would take, not the team I would select myself:
Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Tony Finau
Finau just barely edges Schauffele for the final captain's pick because of his superior consistency, and Kuchar gets the nod mainly because of his experience and steadiness.