Jim Furyk tried to keep the focus Monday on the eight automatic qualifiers for the United States Ryder Cup team following the PGA Championship, but even the captain acknowledged that Tiger Woods “is a story.”
Brooks Koepka vaulted into first place in the standings with his third major title, and will be joined by Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson at next month’s event at Le Golf National in Paris.
What remains is for Furyk to determine his four captain’s picks. He will announce the first three on Sept. 3 after the Dell Technologies Championship, and will fill the last spot on the team on Sept. 9 following the BMW Championship.
“I’m excited, and I know these eight players are excited as well,” Furyk said at Monday’s press conference officially announcing the top eight spots. “I’ve been waiting 18 months to get a touch, to get a feel, for who our eight qualifiers would be, who the eight players would be. That 18 months has flown by in some respects, and it feels like it has taken forever in others.
“I wanted guys who really enjoy that atmosphere, and these eight guys, when I look at them, they’re guys that enjoy that challenge. This eight is exciting for any captain, and I love having this group. They bring a lot to the table.”
As much as Furyk wanted to focus on the top eight, the attention quickly turned to the final four spots. Bryson DeChambeau sits in ninth, followed by Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut at the PGA, and Woods, who climbed nine spots to No. 11 with his second-place finish in St. Louis.
Prevailing wisdom says Woods has done enough to make the team, although Furyk would not commit to that decision Monday.
“That’s a good question,” Furyk said. “He’s playing very well. I think there are a lot of folks out there who probably think that he can help us. Really what we wanted to talk about today was the top eight players. I realize Tiger is a story, I realize that he’s playing very well and I’m excited to see that.”
Woods, who will be at Le Golf National as a vice captain, has a 13-17-3 record in seven previous Ryder Cup appearances as a player, and is 4-1-2 in singles.
“I’m not sure that numbers are always that important when I look down the list,” Furyk said when asked if Woods’ chances of making the team are far greater at No. 11 in the rankings rather than the 20th he was last week. “What is important is how well Tiger has played. Sixth place at the Open Championship, second at the PGA... his game, I think the word he used was ‘trending?’ His game is trending, so it’s great to see him playing well.”
Furyk said there is no defined number of players vying for the captain’s picks and that the door is open for players currently not on the radar to put themselves in position during the FedExCup Playoffs, which begin with next week’s The Northern Trust in Paramus, N.J.
“The reason we put this system in place was to identify hot players, identify the players who are playing well right now,” Furyk said. “If a guy gets hot and starts playing well, he’ll definitely catch the team’s eye, he’ll definitely catch the vice captain’s eye and mine. I would say the door is open in a lot of respects, but we’re still looking at this year and a body of work as well.”
Furyk said he was going to give the top eight a few days to “decompress” following the final maje not only who is playing well, but who is a good fit for the team and in pairings for group play.
Furyk has toured Le Golf National significantly over the past year, and believes it’s a course that suits a certain style of player - although he declined to specify what type of player that is. He also straddled the fence when asked whether he will be looking for more veteran presences like Woods, Mickelson and Matt Kuchar, who is currently 13th in the standings, or more youth to cultivate with Thomas being the only Ryder Cup rookie currently on the squad.
Not far behind DeChambeau, who missed the cut at the PGA, is reigning Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele (12th) and Tony Finau (15th). Both played the first two rounds of the PGA with Furyk, and rallied to make the cut after poor starts.
“We are investing in the future and we are looking ahead. But we’re trying to identify the four players that fit with these eight,” Furyk said. “So when I look at my captain’s picks, I’ll be looking at guys that have had a great body of work this year, guys that are playing well and maybe hot players at the time.
“I’m looking at pairings, who fits in well with these eight players. I’m also looking at the golf course. Le Golf National is a great golf course in my opinion, but it suits a certain style of player. It’s my job, I think, to round this team out the best possible way.”
The eight European automatic Ryder Cup qualifiers won’t be known until Sept. 2. England’s Ian Poulter jumped from 12th place to eighth place in the standings Sunday after tying for 31st in the PGA. England’s Paul Casey, who missed the cut in the PGA, dropped to ninth place on the Euro points list.
The U.S. team won the most recent Ryder Cup series 17-11 in 2016 at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn.
A look at the eight automatic qualifiers to the U.S. Ryder Cup team, the previous Ryder Cups in which they have appeared and their match record in the competition (wins-losses-halves):
1. Brooks Koepka: 2016; 3-1-0
2. Dustin Johnson: 2010, 2012, 2016; 6-5-0
3. Justin Thomas: no previous Ryder Cup experience
4. Patrick Reed: 2014, 2016; 6-1-2
5. Bubba Watson: 2010, 2012, 2014; 3-8-0
6. Jordan Spieth: 2014, 2016; 4-3-2
7. Rickie Fowler: 2010, 2014, 2016; 2-4-5
8. Webb Simpson: 2012, 2014: 2-2-1
—Field Level Media