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Familiarity helps Furyk, Snedeker
In the end, Davis Love III went with the comfortable and familiar in his mission to bring the Ryder Cup back to the United States.
Love took Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker — the last two somewhat surprisingly — with his four captain’s picks on Tuesday for the biennial matches, to be played in three weeks at Chicago's Medinah Country Club.
No one should question the selections of the athletically gifted Johnson — despite his poor 1-3 record at his first Cup two years ago in Wales, where he and Phil Mickelson spectacularly flopped as a team — or Stricker, a late bloomer who’s one of the game’s best putters and, just as important, a natural partner for Tiger Woods.
The other two picks, however, were contentious.
Furyk’s an old war horse, a veteran of seven teams, but a player who twice this year (uncharacteristically) coughed up wins down the stretch — infamously at the US Open, then making a horrendous double bogey on the final hole of last month’s Bridgestone Invitational to make Keegan Bradley richer.
To some, Furyk may be yesterday’s man, but not to his old friend, Love.
It’s obvious from hearing Love speak on Tuesday that the 42-year-old Furyk, despite the underwhelming 8-15-4 Ryder Cup record, was always going to be at Medinah.
“I need Jim Furyk,” Love said.
Europe has only one Ryder Cup rookie, big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts. Love’s team, however, includes four rookies — Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Bradley and Snedeker — and so he wants “the calming influence” of Furyk, a well-liked and respected veteran.
“Experience brings a lot to the team room,” Love said.
In Furyk’s favor, too, was that one of Love’s assistants, Freddie Couples, watched the veteran go 5-0 last year during the victorious US Presidents Cup campaign in Australia.
Assuming Love had made up his mind on the first three picks, he was then left with a handful of players — Snedeker, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Bo Van Pelt and Nick Watney — fighting for the last spot.
Many believed Mahan, who has won twice this year — including beating Rory McIlroy in the final of the Match Play championship — and was ninth in the standings (one outside of automatic qualification) had the inside running.
But Mahan has been mired in a slump. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to erase the memory of his duffed chip in the anchor singles match against Graeme McDowell two years ago at Celtic Manor that handed Europe the Cup for the sixth time in eight matches.
Though his teammates rallied around a tearful Mahan — he was not the sole parent of that loss, and it was just one of Corey Pavin’s many mistakes to send him out last — the fact is, much like Lee Westwood, Mahan’s an excellent ball-striker who putts well but is still held back by a spotty short game.
As players such as Seve Ballesteros and Europe’s captain at Medinah, Jose Maria Olazabal, showed many times, Ryder Cups are won and lost by the ability to get up and down. It’s clear that Mahan wasn’t seen favorably through that prism.
Van Pelt’s a solid pro, but there are no points awarded at Ryder Cups for top-10 finishes. He has won only once in his career and failed at the AT&T National in July when he had Woods against the ropes with three holes to play.
After what’s been a lost year, Watney found form two weeks ago in winning The Barclays, but left his run too late.
Fowler would have been an intriguing pick because Europe’s star, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, finished second in both his professional wins. The colorful Fowler also led the US to a Walker Cup victory over McIlroy’s team in 2007.
He was impressive, too, at the last Ryder Cup — the first PGA tour rookie to ever be picked by a captain — rallying with four closing birdies to scratch out a crucial half-point in his singles match against Edoardo Molinari.
But after his breakthrough PGA tour win at Quail Hollow three months ago, it’s true that Fowler’s game has largely gone AWOL. Which left Snedeker.
Snedeker was helped by several factors, including familiarity: He and Love share an agent, are both Bridgestone staff players and see a lot of each other at their Georgia base, Sea Island.
Certainly, Snedeker helped his case by finishing second at The Barclays — at Bethpage Black, a big ballpark, as Medinah will be — and shooting 65-67 in the final two rounds at TPC Boston to finish sixth at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
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But does he have enough big-game credentials?
He has had two chances to win majors and faltered at both the 2008 Masters and this year’s British Open, when a late rally helped him to a third-place finish.
His three wins have all featured big come-from-behind Sunday rounds, which isn’t the same pressure as playing with the lead.
And who knows what message Woods was giving when he was asked about Snedeker last week and brought up the lowest point of his career, a four-putt from 11 feet at the 2009 BMW Championship on the final hole that cost the 31-year-old a place in the Tour Championship?
“Unfortunately I played with him a few years ago when he made that mistake at Cog Hill on 18,” Woods said, before going on to add that “he putts it good.”
Of the four picks, Snedeker will certainly be the one under most scrutiny.
On the upside, though, he’s a naturally ebullient character who’s quick to smile and in that sense, will help keep things loose in the US team room, which has proven a challenge to past American captains.
“I think we just have to relax, and play,” Love said when asked about the key to winning.
He thinks he has the right mix.
“I can tell you this,” he said, “I love my team.”
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