NORTON, Mass. — One week into the Ryder Cup auditions for the captain’s picks, Davis Love III should have no trouble identifying the hot player.
Trouble is, Rory McIlroy plays for the other team.
The Deutsche Bank Championship, where McIlroy rediscovered his putting stroke, was the first of two big tournaments that essentially allow Love and the Americans to buy time so they can decide how to use three captain’s picks that will be announced Monday.
Love will get a fourth pick after the FedEx Cup ends on Sept. 25, presumably before the boarding door closes on the flight to Hazeltine.
But is this really an audition?
Not according to Phil Mickelson, the senior member of the U.S. team who serves on the Ryder Cup Task Force.
“I think the picks are fairly obvious,” Mickelson said before the first shot was struck at the TPC Boston. “If they’re not, or if we get a guy like Billy Horschel who just gets a hot hand and we need that hot hand to give us the best chance to win, then we have that option. For the most part, I think it’s fairly obvious who the picks would be without even naming them.”
Maybe it’s obvious to Mickelson, and perhaps to Love.
But not to everyone.
“I can’t name them, either,” said Steve Stricker, an assistant captain and task force member. “I don’t know who they are, I swear. I could put five guys down that are obvious. I don’t think I could do three.”
Matt Kuchar would seem logical. He finished 12th in the standings, has the right game for match play because he is rarely out of position, and he likely played his way onto the team with that 63 on the final day to win the bronze medal at the Olympics.
Rickie Fowler makes sense, even though he has never won a match in two Ryder Cup appearances. Fowler is well-liked, he paired nicely with PGA champion Jimmy Walker at Gleneagles and tied for seventh at The Barclays in the final qualifying event. Then again, he squandered a chance to play his way onto the team at Bethpage Black by making a mess of the last four holes. He wound up 11th in points.
After that, the obvious becomes opinions.
Bubba Watson finished at No. 9 in the standings and he is No. 7 in the world. However, the two-time Masters champion hasn’t had a top 10 on the PGA Tour in six months. Jim Furyk is under consideration, mainly because he finished at No. 15 in the standings despite missing four months at the start of the year to recover from wrist surgery. He also shot 58. But he didn’t make it beyond the second stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
J.B. Holmes was No. 10 in the standings. Holmes is a power player and one of the few active Americans to have never been on a losing Ryder Cup team. His only appearance was in 2008 at Valhalla. He went 2-0-1.
That’s five options, and there might be more.
But let’s say the initial three captain’s picks really are obvious.
Europe filled out its team with three captain’s picks last Tuesday, two days after qualifying ended. Too soon? It might look that way with Alex Noren winning in Switzerland and moving up to No. 27 in the world. At least it has a team of 12 for a month leading to the opening shot on Sept. 30.
The Americans won’t have a full team until they arrive at Hazeltine.
They were giddy about their trip to Gillette Stadium last week, even though only two-thirds of the team was there. It led to one awkward moment when someone asked Kuchar how he liked the home of the New England Patriots and the speech from 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey captain Mike Eruzione. Kuchar wasn’t there. Neither was Fowler. Or the other “obvious” pick.
As for the final pick, Love is thrilled with the idea that someone could get hot and reach the Tour Championship and have a shot at winning the FedEx Cup “and I get to pick him on Sunday night.”
That sounds great, as long as it’s the right guy who wins.
Of the 70 players moving on to Indiana for the third playoff event, eight are Americans who have never won a PGA Tour event and, according to Love, still on his radar.
Love asked a question in New York last week that he couldn’t answer, and neither can anyone else.
“Is it easier for that guy to stay hot — or for that other guy to get hot?” he said.
The Americans are looking for any edge they can find. It’s hard to blame them since they have only won the Ryder Cup twice since 1995. But would it take anything away from the Ryder Cup if both teams had the same qualifying system? Start it one year out, take 11 players and give the captains one wild-card pick.
And then go play.
Because golf is supposed to be a sport that rewards a good score, not a good relationship.