The tournament within the tournament that’s been weather-delayed to a Monday finish is the players jockeying for a position on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Time is running out and there’s a captain to impress before the eleventh hour passes.
The Northern Trust is scheduled to conclude Monday at Liberty National in Jersey City, weather permitting following the aftermath of Tropical Storm Henri, which made the course unplayable on Sunday.
Sure, the players are doing everything they can to win the FedEx Cup and the $15 million bonus that comes with that. But there, too, is a mad scramble on the part of many of them as they use these last couple of tournaments on the 2021 PGA Tour schedule trying to sway U.S. captain Steve Stricker to pick them.
Only two have clinched a spot on the team — Collin Morikawa, who missed the cut at the Northern Trust, and Dustin Johnson. Bryson DeChambeau, who’s third on the points list, Brooks Koepka (fourth), Justin Thomas (fifth) and Xander Schauffele (sixth) are virtual locks to play for the U.S. Sept. 24-26 at Whistling Straits.
After the first six automatic berths, who the next six captain’s picks will be becomes a bit murky.
Jordan Spieth, who’s had a strong rebound season, is seventh on the points list, followed by Harris English, a two-time winner this season, Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger, Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau.
Reed, who embraces his nickname “Captain America’’ from his past Ryder Cup exploits, would figure to be a sure bet for Stricker to pick, but he withdrew from the Northern Trust on Thursday with an ankle injury.
Phil Mickelson is a compelling case, though he’s only 19th on the points list. No player in the history of the sport has played in more team events than Mickelson, who’s played in the past 12 Ryder Cups, dating back to 1995.
Mickelson, who won the PGA Championship in May at Kiawah Island, has had an otherwise unremarkable season. A show of his inconsistency came this week when he missed the cut at Liberty National.
Mickelson has, in recent weeks, nobly stated that Stricker should not pick him unless he got hot in these last few tournaments and showed some consistency. That time has seemingly passed.
Stricker, however, may not be able to afford passing on Mickelson, who’s one of the greatest money players of all time, a player who thrives in the big moments. He, too, is the back-room glue that can help bond this team that, with a lot of egos, will need bonding.
Smart money has Mickelson serving as a vice captain for Stricker, preparing himself for the 2024 Ryder Cup captaincy at Bethpage Black.
The Ryder Cup points list will close with this week’s BMW Championship, the top six players securing their respective spots. After the following week’s Tour Championship, Stricker will announce his six captain’s picks.
“You don’t think about it while you play, but you know there’s definitely that feel of a tournament inside of a tournament,” said Finau, who was a captain’s pick on the 2018 team that lost to Europe 17 ½ to 10 ½ in Paris, compiling a 2-1 record. “There are some guys on the bubble, a few guys that have made the team already, and, honestly, some guys that are most likely going to make the team.
“The biggest reason I made the team [in 2018] is I showed the captain in the playoffs that I was in great form. I think I’m in a similar situation this year where I’m going to have to play well in the playoffs, and I welcome the challenge.”
Finau has met the challenge at the Northern Trust, where he enters Monday’s final round tied for fourth, two shots out of the lead.
“Obviously it’s been on my mind some,” said English, who’s never played a Ryder Cup.
“That would be a dream come true for me to play on the Ryder Cup team,’’ Scheffler said. “I know I’m 14th in the rankings, so if you look at that I’m probably just on the outside looking in right now.’’
Morikawa said hearing from Stricker once he’d clinched a spot “was the best call I could have had.’’
“My first Ryder Cup, I still remember the [first] tee shot at Wales,’’ Johnson said. “It’s a completely different feeling. It’s something you’ve never felt before. It’s a lot of fun. You’ve just got to embrace it and enjoy it and enjoy the week.’’
If you can get yourself there.
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