KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III has a simple message for the Americans trying to earn one of the eight automatic spots on his team this week at the PGA Championship.
He knows from experience it's not that simple.
Phil Mickelson, who has qualified for every Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team since 1995, has fallen to No. 8 in the standings and has a tenuous lead — the equivalent of $40,690 — over Hunter Mahan at No. 9. A little further back are Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler.
Because the points are double at major championship, even Matt Every at No. 37 in the standings has a mathematical chance to earn a spot in the Ryder Cup.
"I know there's several guys that are working really hard to try to make the team," Love said Wednesday. "So hopefully, they will relax and just play the PGA this week and work their way in."
Love tipped his hand at a couple of players that would seem to be safe. He was surprised to find out that Mahan, one of only four players to have won at least twice on the PGA Tour this year, was not among the top eight. And even though Furyk made double bogey on the final hole to lose at Firestone last week, Love noted that the former U.S. Open champion "is playing very well week in and week out now."
As for Stricker?
"I've said several times, we'll be plugging holes, matching pairings, things like that," Love said. "Obviously, if Steve Stricker was on the outside, we have a guy that likes to play with him. That's a lock."
That would be Tiger Woods, who teamed with Stricker for a 2-1 record in the last Ryder Cup.
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal still has time. The cutoff for 10 players who make the team — five from a European Tour money list and five from a points based on world ranking points they have earned — is not for three weeks until after the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
But the European captain made one thing clear — Padraig Harrington better pick up the pace.
Harrington, a three-time major champion from Ireland, has been on every Ryder Cup team since 1999. But he has not won since the Johor Open at the end of 2010. Harrington has shown some improvement in recent weeks, and two of his five top 10s this year have come in the majors — a tie for eighth at the Masters, a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open. That might not be good enough.
"Padraig, he has to do really extraordinary," Olazabal said. "He's well down the list. He will have to really do extraordinary well here. We've known Padraig; he's a very methodical player. He really works hard at it. I've played with him a couple of times during this year. From tee to green, his game has been fairly good, but I think his putting has let him down this year so far.
"As I said, three weeks left," Olazabal said. "If he really does extraordinarily well, he can have a great chance of making the team still. But it's going to be up to him."
Holding down the 10th spot for Europe is Sergio Garcia, whose best finish this year was a tie for third in the Scandinavian Masters. Garcia made his Ryder Cup debut at age 19 in 1999. He missed his first team in Wales two years ago, but jumped in as a vice captain and was as spirited as ever.
"You've seen him play a Ryder Cup. He's a great team player. His spirit is always really good. And in that regard, I think he's a great asset to the team," Olazabal said. "He has obviously the experience, the knowledge. He wants to be part of it. It's true that at the moment, his game is a little bit off. And pairing wise, he's proved the last few Ryder Cups he can play with anybody, and he's done well. And I think that's very important.
"If you are looking at the players to be on your team, Sergio would certainly be one of them for sure."
Woods is the only American play who mathematically has locked up a spot on the team, though it's safe to say that two-time winner Jason Dufner, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley, the PGA champion who won last week at Firestone, are safe bets. Behind them are U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Mickelson.
Mickelson is the only player who has not either won multiple times, a major or The Players Championship.
"We have a lot of guys playing very, very well from top to bottom," Love said.
It would seem this is an especially big week for Mickelson and Mahan to earn a spot on the team, but more for Fowler, Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson, two of them might be left off the team. It's a big turnaround from last time, when no one really stood out as captain's picks for Corey Pavin except for Woods. Now, Love has too many good players to choose from — all of them winners this year — and someone will be deeply disappointed.
Love will not have to announce his captain's picks until the first week in September, after the second FedEx Cup playoff event. Even if a player like Mickelson doesn't make the team, he has at least two weeks to show some form. But no one wants to have to wait to be picked if he can help it.
Love will get a close look at Lefty because they are paired the first two days at Kiawah Island. Love was asked if there was a scenario that Mickelson, who has never needed to be a captain's pick, could be left off the U.S. team.
"I've talked to Phil several times this week and watched him play a little bit, and he's very excited about making the team," Love said. "I think he and Steve and a lot of guys are trying really hard to make the team, and that might be hurting them a little bit. We have all been there. The last few weeks, you press a little bit, you try a little too hard. I have a feeling that Phil is going to play well sometime in the next three weeks, and it will be back to normal for him.
"It would be hard to play without him," Love said. "He's been such a big part of a lot of Ryder Cups in a row."
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