Commentary

Love weighs pros, cons in selections

Updated: September 4, 2012, 6:20 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

All right, all wrong. Take your pick. We can argue every minute of every day until the Ryder Cup begins in just over three weeks whether U.S. captain Davis Love III made the correct call with his four at-large picks on Tuesday.

Take your side.

You can debate the merits of Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker and Steve Stricker and be completely behind the foursome Love chose to round out his 12-man squad.

Or you could argue against them, and wonder why Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan were not picked.

Just like Love, you wouldn't necessarily be right or wrong.

That speaks to the depth the United States side has heading into the 39th edition of the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club outside of Chicago.

It also suggests there were no slam dunks, save for perhaps Stricker, whose putting prowess and ability to partner with Tiger Woods made him an obvious choice and one that appeared apparent when all the speculation began weeks ago.

Not so much for Johnson, Furyk and Snedeker, all with their numerous positives -- but also enough negatives to give pause.

Consider Mahan's plight. He fell out of the top eight automatic qualifiers just a week prior to the last qualifying tournament at the PGA Championship. He won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Match Play Championship, knocking off current world No. 1 Rory McIlroy in the final. He also won the week prior to the Masters.

It is all but unprecedented for a two-time American PGA Tour winner in a Ryder Cup year to not make the team.

Then there is Fowler, who delivered a clutch performance in Wales on the final day two years ago. He birdied the final four holes to earn a half point. He has experience and has won a tournament this year. He, too, will have to watch from home.

Throw in Nick Watney, who won The Barclays, or Bo Van Pelt, who has racked up a PGA Tour-leading eight top-10s, and Love certainly had choices. Both are ahead of Furyk in the world rankings.

But Mahan and Fowler left enough doubts in recent weeks to allow Love to go with two veterans in Furyk and Stricker, a rookie who is on a roll in Snedeker, and a bomber in Johnson, who seems perfectly suited for the "big ballpark'' that is Medinah. Mahan missed the cut at the PGA Championship and The Barclays, while Fowler has struggled since late May. Watney made a late push, and it was tough to envision Van Pelt getting a pick without an official tour win in his career.

"It was tough to leave anybody off,'' Love said at a news conference Tuesday in New York. "This is probably the deepest, strongest year of earning points that I've seen. There were a lot of guys who played a lot of really good golf. You can analyze the numbers up and down, back and forth.

"It was tough to leave anybody off. We could have gone very, very deep this year down the points list. There's four great players who we have picked who are playing very well and bring a lot to the team.''

Love seemed to suggest that Stricker and Furyk were all but set when the qualifying period ended following the PGA Championship, and that the rest were competing for two spots.

Snedeker and Johnson had good tournaments at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship -- both were in the top 10 at each event. And each missed several qualifying events earlier this year due to injury, something Love noted a few weeks ago as something he would take into consideration.

Getting "hot'' players was among the reasons 2008 U.S. captain Paul Azinger lobbied the PGA of America to delay the at-large selections a few weeks, to analyze play for a few more tournaments and make the choices closer to the Ryder Cup.

In that regard, Love made the right call with Snedeker and Johnson. Stricker and Furyk bring experience, an important factor when you consider four of the 12 team members -- Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson -- will be playing in the Ryder Cup for the first time.

[+] EnlargeWoods-Stricker
AP Photo/Rui VieiraAbout the only U.S. Ryder Cup captain's pick that was close to a sure thing was Steve Stricker, who's making his third appearance in the biennial matches. Stricker has partnered well with Tiger Woods in recent years.

Adding a couple of top-notch putters in Snedeker and Stricker was also a plus. Too many times in Ryder Cup play, the Americans have been doomed by poor putting. It is the essence of match play, something Woods noted last week.

"You've got to putt well, because that can change momentum,'' Woods said. "That can change the tide in matches.''

All that said, you could certainly argue against three of Love's picks, and make the case that any of them could have been replaced by Mahan or perhaps Fowler.

Furyk has been a part of every U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team dating to 1997. He was 5-0 last year at the Presidents Cup, but is 8-15-4 including a horrible 1-8-1 in four-ball (best ball) matches. His leadership and putting are keys, but what about those collapses at the U.S. Open and Bridgestone? He is the only player on the U.S. team without a victory this year.

The view here: Sit Furyk in the four balls, leaving him for three matches.

Johnson is a long hitter who seems perfect for Medinah. And he very well might have made the team on his own had he not missed so much time due to a back injury. He returned in May, won in Memphis, and registered top-fours in his past two starts. Still, Johnson was just 1-3 in Wales and is only 2-6-1 in his two international team competitions. Captains have had difficulty finding a partner for him.

The view here: He's a candidate to sit at least one of the foursomes (alternate shot) matches if it becomes clear that erratic driving doesn't overcome his length.

Snedeker gives the U.S. team four rookies but also another player who won this year. And he can putt. He showed that at the Open Championship and again the last few weeks. Snedeker leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained-putting. The risk is his inexperience. Snedeker has never played in the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup, the latter of which has been known to cause knees to shake on the first tee. Snekeder is not a great ball-striker, either, which can lead to problems in alternate shot. "We need hot putters,'' Love said. "There really hasn't been a hotter putter since the British Open. And he can pair really well with anybody on our team.''

The view here: Snedeker's enthusiasm and putting prowess could give the Americans a big boost.

Then there is Stricker, and it's difficult to find a negative. With four picks, it is hard to envision four players getting chosen ahead of him. He's been one of the most solid American players over the past five years, he went 3-1 in Wales and has paired well with Woods -- who has had difficulty finding good partners.

The view here: Stricker was a lock, and he's likely to play all five matches.

The U.S. will undoubtedly field one of its best Ryder Cup teams. Furyk is the lowest-ranked player at 24th in the world, with four other players in the top 30 being left off the squad. All but Furyk have a tournament title this year. And Furyk joins Woods and Phil Mickelson as players who have competed in at least six Ryder Cups.

But going back to 1995 -- Mickelson's first Ryder Cup -- the U.S. is just 2-6. Not a single player out of the 12 has a winning Ryder Cup record (Mahan is 3-2-3), which is directly related to the lack of overall team success during that period.

"You need the youthful, enthusiastic energy of the young guys, but you also need the calming influence,'' Love said of the mix of newcomers and veterans. "Building a team and camaraderie is what the Ryder Cup is all about.

"We pull together a lot more than people think we do. And then we try too hard. We've got to get out of our own way.''

Will these four picks change that?

Take your pick.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com