COREY PAVIN, the US Ryder Cup captain, today announces his four wild cards for Celtic Manor next month well satisfied with the form of most of those who have already qualified were performing in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston over the weekend.
Irrespective of how the tournament finished, Pavin must have been delighted to see the likes of Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson and to a slightly lesser extent, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson, figure prominently.
Each of the seven are already assured of their places at Celtic Manor next month, leaving Jeff Overton as the only member of the octet to miss out on the final 36 holes in Boston.
Perhaps even more significantly for Pavin was the form of those most in line for his four picks. Once Tiger Woods confirmed he was keen to be a member of the side, Pavin was never going to leave him out. His Ryder Cup record is poor enough by Tiger’s own standards but compared with many others, it is quite respectable.
He made his first appearance in the contest at Valderrama in 1997 since when his singles victims include Andrew Coltart, Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson and he has halved with Jesper Parnevik. His only defeat was at the hands of Italy’s Costantino Rocca in his debut year in Spain while injury prevented his involvement at Valhalla in 2008.
Woods removed any lingering doubts about his selection with his sparkling 65 in the second round in Boston. That leaves Pavin with three spots still to fill and the next man I expect to see him call is Zach Johnson, one of the most reliable and consistent golfers in the States. He is a major championship winner having triumphed in the Masters at Augusta in 2007 when Woods was one of his play-off victims.
He had made his first Ryder Cup appearance the previous September and while he never had a chance in his singles against Darren Clarke in a highly emotion-charged atmosphere in Co Kildare, Johnson remains the kind of player any captain would want in his side.
Johnson finished 11th in the Ryder Cup rankings when the points system closed after the PGA Championship and so has earned his place. One might well say the same about Anthony Kim and Lucas Glover who finished immediately ahead of him and I imagine at least one of this duo will get the nod.
Kim would almost certainly have played himself into the top eight were it not for a wrist injury that sidelined him for much of the season but he has made little impression on his return and missed the cut in Boston by following a promising first round 68 with a 76 on Saturday.
However, Corey Pavin likes people with a bit of fire in their bellies and will have noted Kim’s enthusiasm for battle at Valhalla two years ago when he walloped Sergio Garcia by 5 and 4 in the top singles.
That attitude will help Kim into the side, leaving Glover (the 2009 US Open champion) to fight it out for the last place with such established and successful Ryder Cup stars as Stewart Cink (the 2009 British Open winner) and Scott Verplank, and members of the younger brigade such as Ricky Barnes, Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney.
Given that he already has four rookies in the side, that could mean Cink getting Pavin’s nod on a split vote!
Accordingly, I expect to see the following American line-up at Celtic Manor on October 1: Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Jeff Overton, Matt Kuchar, Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson, Anthony Kim and Stewart Cink.
It’s a very decent-looking squad with a lot of players in good form – which is not something that can be said about a number of the Europeans. Pádraig Harrington remains a big concern after his latest missed cut in Boston has caused him to look again at his schedule. Rory McIlroy looked to have rediscovered his edge with a sparkling seven-under 64 in the first round but a 76 in the second put him out of contention.
Graeme McDowell, took us all by surprise when revealing his only tournament appearance before Celtic Manor will be in next week’s low-key Austrian Open. Meanwhile, we still await Lee Westwood’s return to action after his calf muscle problems.
On a more positive note, it was good to see Luke Donald justify Colin Montgomerie’s confidence in him with a fine performance in the Deutsche Bank where Ian Poulter also survived the cut with something to spare.
Even so, there was something still more inspiring in the way Miguel-Angel Jimenez and Edoardo Molinari, a pair who could have easily pleaded “mental fatigue”, come first and second in the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre. It’s the kind of commitment that Europe will need in spades if they are to regain the Ryder Cup in three weeks’ time.
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