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Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Corey Pavin really has three available picks


Since this is a speculative piece about the impending U.S. Ryder Cup captain's picks, let's end the biggest part of the speculation right now: If Tiger Woods wants to be part of the team, then Tiger Woods will be part of the team.

For the first time since turning pro, Woods failed to qualify for this year's roster. (In fact, this was the first time he wasn't No. 1 on the points list.) Now the talk of the golf world has turned to whether captain Corey Pavin will choose him as one of his four wild-card selections Sept. 7.

Woods
Tiger Woods hasn't played in the Ryder Cup since 2006 but has been on the U.S. squad five times in his career.

"He's high on my list," Pavin said Monday. "He's certainly a big consideration, no doubt."

As well he should be. Never before has a Ryder Cup skipper had the luxury of adding the world's No. 1-ranked player -- a guy with 14 major championship victories and five previous appearances -- to the team. Though many are quick to point out that Woods isn't playing his usual brand of consistent golf, he's still averaging a high number of birdies to offset his mistakes, which should fit the competition's match play format, especially in the fourball portion of the festivities.

The remainder of the decision-making routine isn't as simple. The way I see it, Pavin has a pool of about 13 candidates from which to choose his final three players. An assistant for Tom Lehman in 2006, expect this year's captain to follow his predecessor's lead, which means all decisions will err on the side of caution, dismissing any yearn for Monday morning quarterbacking from the masses.

With that in mind, let's try to get inside Pavin's head and break down what his process of elimination might entail.

If this was an episode of "The Bachelor" -- and don't you wish it was? -- the first players who wouldn't be offered roses include Ben Crane, Ryan Moore, Bo Van Pelt, Ryan Palmer and Ricky Barnes. Each is a solid prospect -- solid enough that he finished in the top 22 on the final points list -- but none quite inspires fear in the hearts of the Europeans. Add to that the fact that only Crane and Palmer have won this season (both back in January) and it's easy to see why, despite possessing certain skills that could translate to success in this event, this fivesome likely won't make it past the first cut.

The second elimination round will be a much more difficult procedure. Pavin could do worse than having any of these five players on his roster -- and each could still work his way onto the team over the next three weeks -- but with Cup rookies Bubba Watson, Jeff Overton, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar already qualified, their inexperience could play a major factor.

So say goodbye to Rickie Fowler, who would likely win a fan voting, if such a thing existed; Nick Watney, who wasn't helped by that final-round 81 at Whistling Straights; Sean O'Hair, who has gotten into the mix with strong play over the past two months; J.B. Holmes, whose power isn't as essential with Watson and Johnson each already filling that role; and Lucas Glover, who fell out of the top-eight this past week for the first time since winning last year's U.S. Open.

That leaves three players to join Woods when the remainder of the roster is named: Zach Johnson, who is fresh off a T-3 at the PGA Championship; Stewart Cink, who knows a thing or two about playing well in the U.K.; and Anthony Kim, who was the last player to miss qualifying for the team, despite missing three months because of a thumb surgery.

Each provides much-needed experience, having played in the biennial competition in the past, though Kim's position might be the most tenuous; if he doesn't prove he's fully healed and another candidate plays well in upcoming events, he could easily be supplanted.

Prior to the last edition of the Ryder Cup, we would already know which selections had been named by this time of year. The most recent former captain, Paul Azinger, changed that process, though, allowing for three extra weeks in order to pick the hottest players.

Expect Pavin to take advantage of this rule, too. While four men have the inside track, the final outcome could be very different come Sept. 7.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.