The final piece in the jigsaw for the 41st Ryder Cup will fall into place in the early hours of tomorrow morning, when Team USA captain Davis Love III announces his fourth wild-card selection during the half-time break in the NFL match between Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears in Arlington, Texas, writes Martin Dempster.
The late decision on the 12th member of the home team has been dubbed by Love as the “Billy Horschel Rule”, having been introduced by the Americans after he failed to make the side for Gleneagles two years ago despite winning the Tour Championship and, in the process, the FedEx Cup.
Whether someone can stake a late claim by emulating that feat remains to be seen, but the leading contenders for that final pick appear to be Bubba Watson, Daniel Berger and Justin Thomas after they joined six team members for a practice session at Hazeltine this week.
“They are in incredible danger of overthinking things,” said Andrew Coltart, pictured right, of Love’s last pick, having already overlooked world No 7 and two-time major winner Watson in favour of Rickie Fowler along with Matt Kuchar and JB Holmes in his three earlier selections.
“They came up with this idea on the basis that Billy Horschel played well in the Tour Championship in 2014 and how they could have had him in the team and what a difference that would have made.
“Here they are waiting to make a final pick after this weekend but you have Phil Mickelson telling everybody what the partnerships are even though they don’t know who the 12th man is.
“Then you have Bubba Watson, whose character is a bit fragile at the best of times, and he’s waiting to see if he’ll get picked. But he is left to wonder whether his team-mates actually want him there in the first place. There is a bit of confusion which may seep into the team.”
Paul McGinley also reckons Team USA are taking a “gamble” by leaving their last wild-card pick until the 11th hour and reckons a masterplan drawn up by a new taskforce could blow up in Love’s face.
“I’m really intrigued to see how the 12th pick works,” said McGinley, who led Europe to a 16.5-11.5 victory in the last match at Gleneagles two years ago. “Making that pick at the 11th hour is something that’s never been seen in the Ryder Cup before. It’s a gamble to a large extent. You’re identifying the 12th player quite clearly and how is that player going to perform? The pressure is going to be on that person when it comes to the Ryder Cup.”
Love, who is getting a second chance after losing at Medinah four years ago, has made no secret of the fact that both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been heavily involved in Team USA’s decision-making process for this event. They have helped create a much-needed buoyancy in the home ranks, but that could easily disappear quickly if Europe make the better start on the outskirts of Minneapolis.
“I think that is something that could happen, and if it does, how they are going to get themselves out of it,” observed McGinley. “On the other hand, if they’re validated, they may get confident very early.
“Certainly, the players seem to be having a big say, but the other side of that is that there is a lot of pressure on them, and a lot of the players who are on that team were on that taskforce.”
Finalised since the end of August, when Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters and Lee Westwood were added to the nine automatic qualifiers, the European side for this contest contains six rookies, one less than the team Coltart was on at Brookline in 1999.
“I don’t listen to this rookie garbage at all,” insisted the Scot. “You’ve got a guy there in Danny Willett who is the Masters champion. Rookies were never major champions. Now, you’ve got rookies who are winning events and playing against top 50 players in the world all the time. They are not bothered.
“It wasn’t that long ago that some of these guys were playing in team events in the amateur game. OK, it’s a monumental step up from that but they’ll relish being part of the team. They all look like they can handle it.
“The Ryder Cup is a different animal but they have good, level-headed, experienced players in the team and back room staff. They have people who can handle the pressure and allow these new players to go out and do what they do best.”