NORTON, Mass. – Rickie Fowler set three goals for himself at the start of the year. He achieved his top priority in early May when he won for the first time on the PGA Tour with a birdie on the first playoff hole at Quail Hollow.
He might be able to take care of the next two goals at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Fowler wanted to reach the Tour Championship for the first time, and he wanted to get back on the Ryder Cup. That's what makes this second FedEx Cup playoff event on the TPC Boston so important to him. Fowler is No. 19 in the standings. A strong tournament could all but ensure him a spot at East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale and a shot at that $10 million bonus. A good week also might be enough to get the attention of Davis Love III.
This is the final audition for a half-dozen players under consideration to be a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup. Love will announce them Tuesday in New York.
There are 99 players at the TPC Boston who are still alive in the FedEx Cup. The loudest chatter, however, is about the Ryder Cup. Fowler could figure that out when he finished his pro-am Thursday and said to a small group of reporters, "What's up?" He already knew the answer, and when someone suggested that the FedEx Cup was being overlooked in this second playoff event, Fowler nodded his head.
"Weird, huh?" he said. "When are they playing that?"
He knew that answer, too. The Ryder Cup is a month away, Sept. 28-30 at Medinah outside Chicago. The date that looms more is Tuesday for the increasingly difficult decision that Love faces in filling out his American team with four more players.
"Playing golf is all I can do," Fowler said. "I don't want the pick to be hard for Davis. ... I hope to play well and make the pick easier."
Early in the afternoon, it was a like a procession of potential picks.
Hunter Mahan played two groups behind Fowler. And right behind Mahan was Nick Watney, who wasn't even part of the Ryder Cup equation until he won The Barclays. That made him No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings, which made him happy. And it made Watney part of the Ryder Cup conversation, which made him ... well, he's not sure what to think.
Watney was such a long shot to make the Ryder Cup team a week ago that he hasn't been measured for a team uniform, and when Love hosted an informal dinner at the PGA Championship three weeks ago for potential Ryder Cup players, Watney didn't even get invited.
"For all I know, I'm not even in the conversation," Watney said. "I'm really not sure. All I can do is go and try to play my best. I know that's watered down and cliche, but it's really true. I'm not really shooting for any number or, 'If I finish in the top 10 I'll make it' because I'm just not sure. I guess I'll just try to continue my momentum.
"And if I get that call, I could probably walk to Indy just as fast as fly because I'll be super, super excited."
Indianapolis, where the BMW Championship will be played next week, is the third stop in the playoffs. Getting to Crooked Stick is the goal for some three dozen players at the TPC Boston, because only the top 70 move on.
Among those on the bubble are Vijay Singh (No. 59), Pat Perez (No. 65), Sean O'Hair (No. 74) and Jason Day (No. 88).
Tiger Woods, whose injury-filled season a year ago kept him out of the playoffs, returns to the Deutsche Bank Championship. He won on the TPC Boston in 2006, the year before the FedEx Cup began. Woods fell to No. 3 in the standings because of a dismal weekend at Bethpage, and because players are grouped by their FedEx Cup seeding, he will play the opening two rounds with Watney and Brandt Snedeker, another Ryder Cup possibility.
Woods has talked to Love about the potential picks, and he has an idea what kind of player the captain is considering. But he's not saying, except for the idea that having too many guys from whom to choose is not the worst thing.
"It's nice that we have some depth, and we have some young talent out there to choose from, and we have some guys that are playing well, too, which is great," he said.
Woods pointed out that Paul Azinger came up with this model of waiting three weeks for the captain to make his picks, allowing players extra time to show their form.
"It can give guys an opportunity to play well in big events — two playoff events — but it also showcases guys who are hot, and that's the whole idea is to get guys that are hot," Woods said. "That's the thing that basically Davis and I have been talking about. And I'm sure we'll continue to talk."
It's also given some players time to break into a cold sweat.
Mahan looked to be on the team all year, especially after winning the Match Play Championship and the Houston Open, moving up to No. 4 in the world and making him the highest-ranked American. He has only had one top 10 since then, however, narrowly missed out on earning on the eight qualifying spots after the PGA Championship and didn't do himself any favors by missing the cut at The Barclays.
"The last couple of weeks, I've tried not to think about it. I've tried to relax and play, and I don't feel that's me," he said. "I need to accept it and get excited about it. I do have a chance to make the team. I need to be a little more aggressive with it, relish the opportunity and not hide from it. It's there. It's going to take energy for me not to think about. Hey, I'd rather be in the mix for the Ryder Cup than not."