Fred Couples has a short list of candidates to be a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup and will use the Tour Championship as one last audition.
One player who didn’t make the U.S. team and won’t be sweating it out is Tiger Woods -- and he won’t even be playing at East Lake.
Couples made it clear three weeks ago that he would use one of his captain’s picks on Woods, and he explained his logic Sunday night during a conference call after 10 players earned a spot on the U.S. team.
“I just decided to let everyone know that they were really playing for one spot,” he said. “I felt it was justified to my team, also, that anyone outside of the top 10, they were fighting for one spot.”
That’s what made the final round of the BMW Championship so critical.
Ultimately, the only thing that changed in the U.S. standings was the order in which they finished. Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk and David Toms held the last three spots on the team. Those positions were up for grabs Sunday at Cog Hill, and only were settled when Brandt Snedeker had his worst round of the week (74) and Bill Haas imploded on the back nine and shot 42.
“I knew if I played well, something good would happen,” Haas said. “And I knew if I played bad, nothing would happen.”
Alas, all is not lost, even if it might look bleak.
Couples said Snedeker, Haas and PGA champion Keegan Bradley are “the leaders in this three-ring circus” to be his other pick. He is to announce his selection Sept. 27, the Tuesday after the Tour Championship.
The Presidents Cup will be played Nov. 17-20 at Royal Melbourne, the only course where the International team won, in 1998.
“We still have another week, but that could easily change anyone’s mind,” Couples said. “I want these guys to know that the Tour Championship is still deciding my second pick.”
Most signs point toward Bradley, a 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie whose two wins this year include the PGA Championship. The Presidents Cup list is based on PGA Tour earnings over the last two years, with double the value this season. Bradley had only one year to collect points, which is why his wins at the HP Byron Nelson Championship and PGA Championship were not enough to qualify on his own.
Mahan believes Bradley is the only logical choice. He lobbied for him Friday, when Mahan appeared safe to make the team on his own, and even on Sunday when Mahan thought a poor finish might bump him out of the top 10.
“I don’t think anyone else is really an option,” Mahan said. “Not over a guy who won twice, including a major. I think he’s earned that right. What else do you want him to do? It’s a money list over two years, and he only had one year. He won a major. I know what I would do. Everyone is talking about young guys, and he’s done a pretty good job. I don’t understand what the problem would be.”
Two years ago, Couples announced before the final qualifying event that he was going to pick Mahan, who at the time had only one PGA Tour win, none in the current year.
Perhaps that is what led Mahan to suggest that Couples already has made up his mind.
Couples didn’t come across that way.
“We all have our favorite guys, and you know, it comes down to this,” he said. “Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk and David Toms are eighth, ninth and 10th, and Snedeker, Haas and Rickie Fowler and Zach Johnson all have great shots. And obviously, Mark Wilson, if he were to win, he would have made the team.”
So the short list got a little longer.
Wilson, a co-leader in Chicago after 36 holes until his 77-76 weekend, won twice early in the year. To win the Tour Championship would give him a PGA Tour-leading three wins and make him difficult to ignore.
What hurts Johnson and Fowler is they did not qualify for the Tour Championship, losing an opportunity for one last audition.
Haas is the son of Jay Haas, the assistant captain to Couples. He was poised to make the team -- and bump out Furyk -- until a double bogey on the 13th hole, which was compounded with a bogey on the par-5 15th from the middle of the fairway.
“I’m sure the last nine holes, not only did he feel like the pressure of trying to win, but he knew that if he just hung in there and finished strong, he would have made the team and pushed out Jim Furyk,” Couples said. “And that’s added pressure.”
Couples already is being criticized in some corners for taking Woods, who hasn’t won in two years and whose game is unpredictable after a year of injuries. To pick another player who hasn’t won might lead to even sharper criticism, especially with what Bradley has done. Johnson and Haas have not won this year, and Fowler is yet to win since turning pro toward the end of 2009.
Couples has heard a few complaints about Woods being on the team, and he has tuned them out.
“I think Tiger … has been the best player in the world for a dozen years. I think he’s been a little injured,” Couples said. “Is he playing great golf as of a month ago? Of course not. We’re all pretty attuned people. We all realize that. But he had 2 1/2 , three months to work on his game. I talked to him a lot. And I know he’s working hard. I’m relying on him to have a good time and play well in Australia. I think he’s a guy that does not like to not play well.”