Darren Clarke has filled out his team for the Ryder Cup, and there’s a little bit of a surprise. The automatic qualifiers for the European team are: Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett, and Chris Wood. Clarke’s captain’s picks are Lee Westwood, Thomas Pieters, and Martin Kaymer.
Of those three, Pieters is the surprise pick. Pieters has had a great run of late, winning the Made in Denmark last week, finishing second at the D+D REAL Czech Masters, and fourth at the Olympics. He also had a solid start to the season finishing in the top 15 in his first seven events.
The real question is why Clarke chose Pieters over Russell Knox. Knox is not only ranked higher in the world rankings, 20th vs Pieter’s 41st, but has two wins on the PGA Tour, the Travelers Championship a couple of weeks ago and the WGC-HSBC Champions last November during the wrap-around portion of the season.
Knox seemed to have a reason for his exclusion. He’s played most of his season on the PGA Tour where Pieters has played almost all season on the European Tour.
Meanwhile, Davis Love III has some very tough decisions ahead of him. All of the automatic qualifiers are in after the finish of The Barclays, but the guys on the edge of becoming a captain’s pick could end up determining whether or not the U.S. finally stops the European winning streak.
Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka, Brandt Snedeker, and Zach Johnson are in, but after faltering on the back nine on Sunday at The Barclays, Rickie Fowler is currently out.
The next guys in line after the top eight are Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar while Bill Haas, Jim Furyk, Daniel Berger, Scott Piercy, and Justin Thomas are also in the mix.
Fowler could have made things easier on Love at The Barclays, and he may have done enough to earn himself a captain’s pick with his performance through the first 64 holes, but he’s had a fairly disappointing season. Fowler, whose only win came at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship early in the season, hadn’t finished higher than tied for 10th until The Barclays where he finished tied for seventh. Since the Players, Fowler has missed three cuts and has averaged finishing 28th.
Bubba Watson does have a win under his belt this season. He won the Northern Trust Open, but since the Players his average finish has been around 35th.
Kuchar seems like he’s probably going to be on the team, and Jim Furyk, who missed most of the season with a wrist injury but finished tied for second at the U.S. Open, and has played pretty well recently also seems like he’s in.
Overall, Love’s picks will likely end up upsetting some fans, which is why he, and the guys who have automatically qualified, may take things a step further when looking at who to bring on.
During a Ryder Cup press conference, Love answered questions regarding his captain’s picks.
“Patrick Reed suggested we pay closer attention to strokes gained tee-to-green.”
“Now instead of saying ‘OK, you two go play together,’ we can give players a reason they’re paired. We can say, ‘Hey, we ran the numbers and dissected the course and together you guys are unbeatable.’ Knowing why you’re playing with a guy can do so much to boost confidence.”
With Koepka as the only Ryder Cup rookie in the automatic qualifiers, Love can afford to bring on fresh faces or he can stick with guys who’ve been there before, but he’s also giving the eight guys on the team a chance to suggest players that they may feel fit the team the best.
“I’ve told the eight guys this is their team. If there’s a guy they all want to make the squad, he’s on.”
“I’ve got a jillion people coming to me telling me what to do. It’s my job and the job of the assistant captains to over think this. We’ve got to take all this data and decide what’s important and what isn’t. We’re only going to tell the player what he needs to know, so that way it’s easier for him to go out and play.”
Love will make three of his picks after the BMW Championship, and his final pick after the Tour Championship, and like he said, “It’s going to be an interesting two weeks.”