SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- With majors offering double Ryder Cup points, it stood to reason the U.S. projected roster was subject to change at the PGA Championship. But the Americans rankings weren't just altered at Baltusrol; they were thrown into chaos.
With his Wanamaker win, Jimmy Walker emerged out of the wilderness into fourth place behind Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson in Ryder Cup standings. The 37-year-old Walker was 29th prior to Baltusrol, having missed the cut at three of the previous four majors and failing to post a top 10 since March.
Walker's victory means someone's Ryder Cup bubble just burst. Even more shocking: it could have dashed the Hazeltine hopes of one of the U.S. Olympians.
The four Americans participating in the Rio games -- Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed -- reside outside Ryder Cup automatic qualifying. (Spieth and Dustin Johnson qualified but passed on the tournament.) Given the viable options also vying for a captain's pick -- players like Bill Haas, William McGirt, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner and Daniel Berger -- there's a very real possibilty one of the aforementioned four will be on the sidelines come fall.
Since winning at Riviera and coming second at Doral, Watson's best finish is a 14th place in Akron, and he's been a non-factor in majors (T-37th/T-51/T-39/T-60). But his track record (three Ryder Cups, two Presidents Cups) and brand recognition make up for his so-so summer. Out of this group, he's the biggest lock.
Fowler is an intriguing case. He enjoyed an auspicious start to 2016, placing in the top 10 in five of the year's first seven tournaments. However, his game has been AWOL since March, missing cuts at the Masters, Players Championship, Memorial and U.S. Open. He made the weekend at Troon and Baltusrol, but was out of shouting distance from the leaders (T-46 at the British, T-33 in the PGA). It's a performance that's dropped Fowler from golf's "Big Four."
Still, the stats show Fowler hasn't been as bad as believed: he's seventh in strokes gained and15th in scoring. He's seventh in the world rankings and, like Watson, is one of the sport's shining personalities. It's a sentiment that, for better or worse, factors into these decisions. In short, envision Fowler suiting up for the red, white and blue in Minnesota.
That leaves Reed and Kuchar. Reed's critics point out he's yet to log a top 10 at a major. Conversely, he was at least in contention at Troon (T-12) and Baltusrol (T-13). The same could not be said of Kuchar, who missed the weekend in Springfield and finished T-46 at the U.S. and British Opens. Both players have nine top 10s this campaign, tied with Jason Day for the second-most on tour. Kuchar's been on the last six Ryder and Presidents Cup teams, Reed on the past two. Kuchar gives the squad another veteran presence to join Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson, Reed brings a fiery demeanor that could rub off on his teammates and the U.S. crowd.
Of course, there's still plenty of time left for the standings to shift, albeit not in drastic fashion. The top eight in Ryder Cup points will earn selection to the team after the Barclays on August 28th. Davis Love III will then add three captain's picks at the end of the BMW Championship (September 11th), with his final player choice coming after the Tour Championship (September 25th). It's feasible all four Olympians make the team through automatic qualification.
But if they remain on the outside looking in after the Barclays, Love could have a dilemma on his hands.