The Ryder Cup is still over five months away, but with one major in the books and the next three quickly approaching, I thought it would be fun to check in on where both teams stand and what to look for in regards to qualifying for Paris at the end of 2018. And when have you ever known me to pass up an opportunity to riff about the greatest team event in sports?
We'll start with the United States side because the picture there is a little bit more stable than on the European side. The European side, as European Tour connoisseur Job Fickett recently pointed out, will be more heavily impacted by end-of-season tournaments because of the structure of their qualifying system. While the U.S. will certainly see the effects of the final three majors, the swings likely won't be as big as they are with the Euro roster.
Here are the current top eight for the U.S. as The Players Championship approaches in a few weeks. Remember, each side has eight auto-qualifiers and four captain's picks.
- Patrick Reed
- Justin Thomas
- Dustin Johnson
- Jordan Spieth
- Bubba Watson
- Rickie Fowler
- Brooks Koepka
- Phil Mickelson
Have mercy, that's a loaded list. All eight are ranked in the top 19 in the Official World Golf Rankings, and with the exception of possibly Koepka, all will be in Paris barring an almost unfathomable end-of-season collapse. The only reason I'm hesitant on Koepka is because he missed three months with a wrist injury. Still, with the way he played at Hazeltine (3-1-0), he will likely be on the squad (or even an automatic qualifier) if he shows good form over these final 20 weeks.
Here are your next 12 in order of the standings (this has not been updated since the Texas Open).
- Matt Kuchar
- Brian Harman
- Kevin Kisner
- Gary Woodland
- Bryson DeChambeau
- Chez Reavie
- Luke List
- Tony Finau
- Charley Hoffman
- Kevin Chappell
- Webb Simpson
- Patton Kizzire
There's a lot going on here. But I suspect of U.S. captain Jim Furyk had to pick four golfers today that he would go with three of the top five on that secondary list and .... Tiger Woods, who is No. 28 overall in the standings. Unless Woods misses, like, 10 cuts in a row, he's going to be on the team. His ranking matters less than anyone else's on either team, if only because the Thomas-Fowler-Spieth contingent will revolt if he's not playing alongside them. Whether you agree with that doesn't really matter because it's a reality.
The final few months for the U.S. are going to be endlessly intriguing. So much can happen when points double at majors. Essentially, if you win one of the next three majors, you'll definitely be on the team. That makes April projections feel silly, but the top six on the primary list above still feel like locks. The top four of Reed, Thomas, Johnson and Spieth have probably already done enough to qualify (if 2016 qualification points are any indication). Even if any of those six somehow don't make it on points, they would all easily be captain's picks.
Mickelson, barring injury, will also be on the team even if he falls out of the top eight. Koepka is a tad wild card-y, but I think he'll be there, as well. That theoretically leaves three non-Tiger spots to be divvied up among everyone else (maybe four depending on Koepka).
It's early, but imagine this for Ryder Cup Sunday— Mike O'Malley (@GD_MikeO) April 12, 2018
Reed v. Rory*
Spieth v. Stenson*
Finau v. Casey
Fowler v. Rose*
Bubba v. Cabrera Bello
Phil v. Sergio*
Kuchar v. Hatton
J. Thomas v. Fleetwood
DJ v. Rahm
Koepka v. Noren
Z. Johnson v. Fitzpatrick*
Tiger v. Poulter
Again, it's easy to see somebody like No. 27 Xander Schauffele winning the PGA Championship and locking down a slot. He's among the five guys I'm monitoring over the home stretch.
- Bryson DeChambeau (No. 13) -- I need this like I need air to breathe. Bryson doing Fibonacci sequences on the greens of Paris with an entire continent riding him is why the Ryder Cup was created.
- Tony Finau (No. 16) -- Finau was one of my 12 pre-2018 selections, and his showing on one leg at the Masters has done nothing to dissuade me. I think he'll qualify his way onto the team.
- Xander Schauffele (No. 27) -- It seems like he should be higher than No. 27. He needs to have a really strong end of major season.
- Daniel Berger (No. 31) -- This one will be tricky. He was awesome at the Presidents Cup, but he'll have to get into the top 12 or so to have a real claim at being on this hefty squad.
- Patrick Cantlay (No. 34) -- The dream might be dying.
On the European side, here are your top eight qualifiers right now. These eight would all be on the team if the Ryder Cup started today.
The 2018 Ryder Cup is going to have more hype than the 2018 Masters, isn't it? And Patrick Reed's going to win both, isn't he? Again, there are five months left, and the Euro side will change more than the U.S., but European captain Thomas Bjorn has to be pleased with this list. Here are the next 10 right now that Bjorn could choose from in terms of wild cards (this is a little wonky because Europeans can qualify based on European Tour points or world ranking points, but I tried to combine those lists to give you a good idea of the wild cards).
- Ian Poulter
- Matthew Fitzpatrick
- Henrik Stenson
- Rafael Cabrera-Bello
- Paul Casey
- Paul Dunne
- Alexander Levy
- Shane Lowry
- Joost Luiten
- Eddie Pepperell
You have to think that if Bjorn was picking today, it would be an easy choice with Poulter, Stenson, Cabrera-Bello and Casey. Fitzpatrick would be tough to leave off the squad, but those other four are playing too well. In fact, the list of what Poulter (and for that matter Mickelson on the U.S. side) would have to do to not be on the team probably includes committing a felony.
Levy is going to be interesting to watch in the coming months. He just won the Trophee Hassan II, and he's the only Frenchman with a legit shot a playing Paris. As with the U.S. side, Europe's team can be immensely affected by somebody like Lowry or Dunne winning a major. Will that happen? Probably not, but it could and then it would change the Ryder Cup dynamics.
As these two behemoths prepare for battle later this fall in France, this should give you some good context through which to view some of the bigger tournaments and especially the majors in the coming months.
We more or less knew the cores of both of these teams coming into the year. Rose-McIlroy-Rahm-Garcia-Stenson on the European side and Spieth-Thomas-Johnson-Fowler-Mickelson-Reed on the U.S. side.
What has made everything so eye-opening so far in 2018 is that a few really intriguing bit players that we maybe didn't expect (Woods and DeChambeau for the U.S. and Poulter for Europe) have played really great golf. It brings into focus a scenario in which a captain's pick showdown between Tiger and Poulter could be the most-hyped storyline of the Ryder Cup. That's a long way from now, but nothing about how 2018 has gone has dissuaded me from thinking the 42nd Ryder Cup is going to be an unbelievable experience.