Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn will both have selection headaches to contend with ahead of the September spectacular.
Both are Captains of their respective teams for the 2018 Ryder Cup, and given that there’s still a lot of qualifying points to be won, the composition of both teams will chop and change before the much vaunted Captain’s picks.
In order to gain a feel for who might line out at Le Golf National in Paris, it’s worth determining how the teams would look if qualifying ended today.
The qualifying criteria for Team Europe has changed slightly. The Captain now has an extra pick, matching the four available to the American equivalent. Points earned from the 2018 BMW PGA Championship onward have been multiplied by 1.5, with the aim of attracting in-form players into the fold.
Split into European points and World points (a necessity given how many European players are based on the PGA Tour), the system sees the top four in the Race To Dubai list qualify, along with the top four from the World list not already in the team.
Topping the European points list today are Open champion Francesco Molinari, and an English trio in Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood.
Those four occupy the top seven spots in the World list also, leaving Rory McIlroy (3rd), Jon Rahm (4th), Alex Noren (6th) and Paul Casey (8th) to take the last four automatic spots.
All four players have won this season, and certainly represent a strong contingent to match the above quartet.
The highest ranked players left who would need a Captain’s pick include potential rookies like Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Knox and Eddie Pepperell, with Jorge Campillo and Paul Dunne next in line. Some Ryde Cup veterans are also hovering around though, and Bjorn might favour the experience of Matt Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter or Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
Further down the list, those European stalwarts such as Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell are unlikely to qualify automatically.
With the wildcard picks not taking place until September itself, it falls to us to fill in.
An injury-free Stenson is a lock, as is ‘Mr. Ryder Cup’ Ian Poulter, who recently won his first event in five and a half years. Russell Knox finished runner-up on Le Golf National earlier this month before winning the Irish Open, which is good enough for us.
Finally, 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia gets the nod. His form in 2018 has been very patchy, but his experience of eight Ryder Cups is essential in the likely absence of Lee Westwood.
By virtue of not having most of it’s members playing on a different tour, Team USA’s system is a lot easier to comprehend.
They have brought their points window forward though, with automatic qualifying ending with the conclusion of the PGA Championship. The picks take place in September, and the FedEx Cup playoffs represent the last chance to impress Jim Furyk.
The current standings are led by double U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, followed by Dustin Johnson, Masters winner Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Players champion Webb Simpson.
Seven of those eight are Major winners. Add in the next four in the rankings of Memorial champion Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Xander Schauffele and Matt Kuchar, and you’ve got one of the most formidable Ryder Cup teams ever assembled.
Impressive youngsters Tony Finau and Aaron Wise, along with veteran Zach Johnson are also in contention, but it’s number 20 in the rankings that catches the eye – Tiger Woods.
Tiger’s 2018 resurgence has been a revelation, culminating in his legitimate challenge for The Open last week. Woods was added as a vice-captain, but someone who was often a stymieing presence in Team USA could prove to be a rallying point if he was playing on the course itself.
Given that he’s trending in the right direction and could still qualify automatically with a top showing at the PGA Championship, we have to give Woods a pick.
Keeping Mickelson onboard, it’s difficult to determine the final two slots.
Matt Kuchar is an ideal and experienced partner, but has flattered to deceive in terms of threatening to win this season.
Furyk will surely plump for the affable veteran, however. Finau is more than good enough, but unlike DeChambeau, Wise and Schauffele, he has yet to win on the PGA Tour.
His impressive showings in the Majors this season gives Schauffele the edge, completing our late July Ryder Cup teams. However the teams pan out, the 2018 Ryder Cup already looks amazing.
Tyrrell Hatton (rookie),
Tommy Fleetwood (rookie),
Jon Rahm (rookie),
Alex Noren (rookie),
Russell Knox (rookie),
Justin Thomas (rookie),
Xander Schauffele (rookie)