East Lake in Atlanta will serve as a two-pronged dramatic arena over Labor Day weekend.
Not only will the FedEx Cup champion take home the title and a $15 million prize, but United States Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker will be scrutinizing the form of the players he’s considering for his captain’s picks.
Patrick Cantlay was likely on the team one way or the other, but he vaulted five places to No. 6 with his win at the BMW Championship to claim the final automatic spot on the U.S. team. Stricker will make his six captain’s picks after the Tour Championship.
Collin Morikawa remains in the top spot in the rankings, followed by Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Cantlay. Cantlay jumped past Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Harris English and Patrick Reed.
Each of the five present strong cases to make the U.S. team, which will face Team Europe at Whistling Straits from Sept. 24-26.
Finau won the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs, while Schauffele claimed gold at the Olympics. Spieth has arguably been the most consistent player in the world since February with 11 top-15s in 17 starts.
English is a multiple-time winner this season and ranked 11th in the world. Reed has slipped to No. 19 while missing the first two legs of the playoffs while recovering from pneumonia, but it’s difficult to see “Captain America” not on the team if he’s healthy enough to tee it up.
That likely leaves one remaining spot — two if Reed isn’t able to play — for Stricker to choose from among a slew of candidates.
Daniel Berger is ranked 18th in the world and has a win among seven top-10s in 2021. Ryder Cup veteran Webb Simpson is 20th and has a pair of top-12s among his past three starts.
Like English, Jason Kokrak has multiple victories this season, but is that enough? And there is the group of rising young stars that includes Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns and Will Zalatoris.
The elephant in the room remains Phil Mickelson. If not for his PGA Championship, Lefty wouldn’t even be in the conversation. Mickelson has played on every Ryder Cup team dating back to 1995, but he has a lone top-20 in eight starts since his stunning major triumph and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship.
Mickelson is more likely to be named a vice-captain by Stricker, which he said “of course” he’d accept.
The Tour Championship provides a final opportunity for most of the players on the bubble to state their case to Stricker.
Webb’s chances were dealt a blow when he also failed to qualify for East Lake. And Zalatoris missed the entire playoffs as a Special Temporary Member who has yet to win an event.
Berger, Burns, Kokrak and Scheffler will all be in Atlanta this week, potentially with a competition within the competition for the coveted final spot, or two, for four players each seeking to make their first Ryder Cup teams.
The field could also include Reed, who held onto the 30th and final spot when K.H. Lee bogeyed from the 18th fairway on Sunday. What remains to be seen is if the former Ryder Cup star and Farmers Insurance Open winner from earlier this year will be able to play this week.
–Field Level Media
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