CHARLESTON, S.C. – Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III filled out his roster of assistants on Monday by adding Scott Verplank and Jeff Sluman. Far more interesting is his decision in three weeks when he picks four Americans who will be hitting shots and trying to win back the cup at Medinah.
For the first time since 2006, the PGA Championship did nothing to change the standings in the final qualifying event for the U.S. team. Tiger Woods was No. 1 on the list of eight automatic qualifiers, with Phil Mickelson holding down the final spot.
Love announces his four captain's picks Sept. 4, the day after the second FedEx Cup playoff event. He indicated that the next three players in the standings — Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk — were likely selections, calling them "high on the list."
As for the rest of them?
"We have three weeks to watch them," Love said. "We have a chance to watch a guy get hot. How are these guys playing now that they can relax and don't have to try to make points. Now they are shifting gears a little bit. And we want to see how they play. Obviously, we don't have to go tell them that they are under the gun. They know that there's three more tournaments."
Brandt Snedeker and Bill Haas are the only players under serious consideration who are competing this week in Greensboro, N.C. The real emphasis begins the following two weeks at The Barclays, which features the top 125 on the PGA Tour at Bethpage Black; and the Deutsche Bank Championship.
The other qualifiers were Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Master champion Bubba Watson; and Ryder Cup newcomers Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson. Dufner and Bradley will be playing for the first time in any cup competition.
Love said he is looking at a little bit of everything — Ryder Cup experience, good form and an eye toward potential pairings. Of the players who missed out on qualifying, Stricker would seem to have the least to worry about. He was one stroke short of bumping Mickelson off the team — though Stricker birdied the 18th, so his hopes were over before he got to that hole. Even so, he has been Woods' partner the last three cup competitions, and they went 2-1 as a tandem in Wales at the last Ryder Cup.
"I think if you look back over the last few Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups, Tiger and Steve Stricker have been a really good pairing," Love said. "They are both very comfortable with it."
Rickie Fowler, who missed the cut at Kiawah Island and has had three rounds in the 80s over his last 15 rounds, is close friends with Watson. Then again, Watson and Simpson were a strong pairing at Royal Melbourne in the Presidents Cup last year.
"It's important to fit in as a team," Love said. "I certain saw that firsthand watching Corey (Pavin) pick the team. You certainly have to consider pairings when you pick a guy. You certainly don't want to pick a guy that you don't know who he's going to play with. You don't want to pick a guy that's not going to be comfortable and a team leader."
Woods was a captain's pick in 2010, returning from a year filled with turmoil off the course. He is a three-time PGA Tour winner this season, and Love says he has evolved into a quiet leader in the team room.
"I think he used to think he had to win every match," Love said.
Europe's qualifying period is still two weeks away, ending at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles on Aug. 26. European captain Jose Maria Olazabal will make his two captain's picks the next day. The biggest change for Europe at Kiawah Island was Ian Poulter moving inside the top 10, though Olazabal was likely to pick him anyway.
Olazabal has not announced any of his vice captains.
Love now has Fred Couples, Mike Hulbert, Sluman and Verplank. Sluman, a former PGA champion, never played in a Ryder Cup. He was Jack Nicklaus' top assistant during three straight Presidents Cup matches and is well-respected by the players. Verplank competed in two Ryder Cups and won both singles matches.
Love is playing in Greensboro, and he could qualify for at least the first playoff event at The Barclays. He'll be watching potential picks, yet preaching to them to just play golf.
"I think it's going to end up coming down to just a gut decision of how guys played," Love said. "I'm not going to go finish my round and go start watching them and make them nervous. We'll know how they are playing by their scores and by what they tell us."