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Ryder Cup Implications at Deutsche Bank Championship
In a thought-provoking article on Thursday's PGATour.com, Helen Ross stated the performances of Justin Rose and Paul Casey at this weekend's Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston would be of particular interest, as they would probably be eager to show European Ryder Cup team captain Colin Montgomerie that he picked the wrong guys. However, she added that because both are "English gentlemen" they probably don't "harbor any ill feelings" about not being picked for the team.
It's not clear whether she was joking or not, but regardless of Rose and Casey's country of origin, it's a fair bet the feelings both are currently harboring are almost exclusively ill.
Of course, come Friday morning they will say how they have put such thoughts to one side and that all they are concerned with this week is winning the tournament and rising up the FedEx Cup standings. And no doubt both players will try to convince us, and themselves, that they mean it. They are both professionals after all . . . English professionals, no less. But a strong desire to leave Montgomerie shaking his head and asking himself how he could have been so misguided will probably be the prevailing motivation for doing well. They surely don't begrudge the trio that Montgomerie did pick - Eduardo Molinari, Padraig Harrington or countryman Luke Donald, but as they look at a team that includes Eduardo's brother Francesco (world number 35), Miguel Angel Jiménez (38), and Peter Hanson (40) they must also curse the system that sees them benched.
Casey, who won last year's Shell Houston Open and has 10 victories on the European Tour, has played the Deutsche Bank only once, missing the cut in 2008 and missing last year's tournament because of a rib injury that effectively put him out of the game for three months. Tied for 12th at the Barclays in New Jersey last week, the 33-year-old is 23rd in the standings and, more significantly given his omission from Montgomerie's plans, eighth in the world (he was ninth at the start of the Barclays). Rose, meanwhile, has won twice on the PGA Tour this year but, like Casey, has no good history at TPC Boston. A missed cut in '07 was followed by a tie for 54th last year. Fourth in the FedEx Cup standings, Rose is currently 23rd in the world but did get as high as sixth at the end of 2007.
Of much greater significance than either Rose or Casey's play this week, however, will be that of a handful of Americans still in with a chance of showing Corey Pavin that they are worthy of a spot on his team.
Considering he steamrolled Sergio Garcia in the singles at Valhalla two years ago, you'd think Anthony Kim, who just missed out on qualifying automatically, would be certain of getting one of the four nods. But he spent most of the summer nursing his surgically-repaired thumb, and since his return has played four tournaments but made only one cut - at the Bridgestone Invitational, which doesn't actually have a cut. At a typical PGA Tour event, his opening rounds of 75 and 76 would have seen him packing his bags and leaving town long before the start of round three. You can be sure Pavin will be in Kim's corner this week, however, hoping the young prodigy can start showing the form that took him from beaten finalist at the 2006 US Amateur Public Links Championship to the top 10 in the world in three short years, and which gave him three top-three finishes, including a win in Houston, in a span of four weeks earlier this year.
Zach Johnson is also highly favored, if not quite a lock. The 2007 Masters champion played in the 2006 matches in Ireland but failed to make the team two years later. His season thus far has been highlighted by a terrific win at Colonial in May when he shot 21-under-par, and he gave Pavin some good vibes at Whistling Straits three weeks ago when he finished tied for third in the PGA Championship. Ranked 15th in the race for the FedEx Cup and 17th in the world, Johnson would ensure his second Ryder Cup appearance if he were to win on Monday in Eduardo Molinari-style by birdieing the last three holes.
Then again, because Pavin's four wild cards haven't exactly made themselves conspicuous of late, the same could be said for a lot of players. Even though Stewart Cink said Thursday that the Deutsche Bank shouldn't be considered a Ryder Cup qualifier because "selection to the Ryder Cup is a two-year process," rest assured if he, Lucas Glover, Bo Van Pelt, Ricky Barnes, Nick Watney, Sean O'Hair, J.B. Holmes, or even Rickie Fowler were to win this week, they would more than likely jump right to the top of Pavin's short list.
Well, maybe not the very top because, in all probability, that place is reserved for Tiger Woods who has said he definitely wants to play. The world No. 1 has quite an impressive résumé with which to plead his case, but at 12th in the Ryder Cup standings and 65th on the FedEx list, he will probably need to give Pavin some reassurance that he is ready both physically and mentally.
Physically at least, Woods seems to be on the mend, having forged a working relationship with Canadian instructor Sean Foley (now based in Florida) in recent weeks. Mentally . . . well, who knows?
One thing we do know is that he will need a decent result in Boston just to finish the tournament in the top 70 in the standings and therefore progress to the third playoff event, the BMW Championship in Chicago. With that in mind, his first round tee-time isn't ideal. Hurricane Earl will be moving up the Eastern Seaboard Friday morning and reaching the Massachusetts coastline early in the afternoon. Right now, Earl is expected to hit Cape Cod, about 75 miles from the course, with 100-mph winds around lunchtime, meaning golfers still out at that time will have to negotiate 20 to 30-mph gusts and significant rainfall.
Rain is the tour players' friend as it softens the greens, giving the pins all the security of a sitting duck. But the advantage comes only after the downpour has passed, of course. Playing while the rain is hammering down makes keeping a reliable hold on the club and maintaining solid-footing on the ground a tricky business.
If Woods is able to finish his round Friday - he will likely do so in terrible conditions, the elements playing havoc with a score he needs to keep at least within sight of the lead.
The forecast for the final 54 holes is perfect - high-70s with ever-decreasing wind speeds. That's neither hot nor windy enough to dry the greens out. That means the final 54 holes on the 7,304-yard course, originally designed by Arnold Palmer, but given a major renovation by Gil Hanse and Brad Faxon in 2007, are likely to be one big birdie-fest.
The winning score could well be lower than the 267 Steve Stricker shot last year, and maybe a shot or two better than the amazing 262 Vijay Singh shot, with an opening 64 and closing 63, in 2008. It will be fun watching who goes the lowest.
Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it increasingly difficult for him to focus on Politics (his chosen major) and, after dropping out, he ended up teaching golf at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a "player." He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own web site at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.