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Wildcard weekend: Who's in the driving seat for the final US Ryder Cup places?

US captain Jim Furyk announces three of his four picks on Tuesday.

Guyancourt Golf National - Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines Source: Liewig Christian/ABACA

THE USA ENTER this year’s Ryder Cup in France as firm favourites to defend their title won in Hazeltine two years.

Not surprising, when you consider that each of the top four players in golf’s world rankings list hold a US passport. Moreover, all but one of golf’s four Major titles are held by an American – Florida native Brooks Koepka reasserted the US’s dominance by claiming both the US Open and PGA Championship.

Patrick Reed, who made a name for himself after his duel with Rory McIlroy in the 2016 Ryder Cup, held off a charge from the Northern Irishman to claim the Masters crown back in April.

So where does this leave Jim Furyk with his Ryder Cup team ahead of their invasion of Le Golf National at the end of September?

Well, most of the leg-work is actually already finished. Eight of the 12-man team have already been selected. Bulging with talent, Reed, Koepka and three-time Major winner Jordan Spieth are included in the automatic picks as is world number one Dustin Johnson.

Justin Thomas, winner of this month’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational, makes the cut as does Bubba Watson who was given the role of vice-captain at Hazeltine.

Throw in Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson and you certainly have a formidable team to contend with.

What remains are the decisions faced by Furyk over his remaining four captain’s picks. Each will be chosen at his discretion and this season’s dark horses are queueing up to stake their claim.

But who exactly is in the running for a spot on the plane to France?

Tiger Woods

PGA: THE NORTHERN TRUST - Final Round Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

This latest comeback from the man many consider to be the greatest to ever play the game has been a successful one.

Having overcome back injuries, and after reinventing his swing over the last year, Woods look certain to be included in Furyk’s plans.

With the experience of seven Ryder Cups under his belt, Woods has the experience to slot into the team. Not to earn his spot on reputation, the 42-year-old finished second in the standings at the PGA Championship and showed glimpses of his best performances during a final-day surge at The Open.

Having fallen just short of an automatic position this year, Furyk looks likely to call upon Woods to bolster his team.

Bryson DeChambeau

GOLF: AUG 26 PGA - The Northern Trust Source: Rich Graessle

“I think we could have some great chemistry out there and hopefully maybe intimidate some people,” said FedEx Cup leader Bryson DeChambeau of a possible partnership with Woods at the Ryder Cup.

The Californian rightly pointed out however, that yes, neither he nor Woods are currently guaranteed places on the team and to pair the two together still remains in the realm of fantasy.

But, DeChambeau’s ambitions are to make the cut as one of the final four selections and his eye-catching victory at the Northern Trust last week, where he shot four consecutive rounds in the 60s, will only stand to him.

The world number 12 also claimed victory in the Memorial Tournament where he held off South Korean Byeong-Hun An in a play-off. To win in such a manner will only have added to his case of being included as part of the team.

The 24-year-old may be included to inject more youth into the roster, with an eye to making him part of Ryder Cups over the coming years. With experienced heads like Johnson, Spieth and Simpson already guaranteed their spots, Furyk may opt for a fresh face in the ranks.

Phil Mickelson

GOLF: AUG 26 PGA - The Northern Trust Source: Rich Graessle

It would be difficult to argue against Mickelson’s return to the Ryder Cup this year, having featured in a record 11 teams previously.

His win at this year’s WGC event in Mexico will have come at the perfect time for captain Furyk, with the 48-year-old bringing to an end a winless streak which stretched back to 2013 at the Phoenix Open.

Mickelson brings a record of 2-1-1 with him from 2016’s Ryder Cup in Hazeltine and will be keenly aware of his influence on the winning side two years ago.

Having not won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil in 25 years, Furyk may see this trip to Le Golf National as his best chance to write his own piece of history and will need all his big guns if he wants to blow Thomas Bjorn’s Europeans out of the water.

Matt Kuchar

GOLF: AUG 02 PGA - WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Source: Shelley Lipton

Kuchar may yet make this year’s Ryder Cup team with experience on his side. The 40-year-old has featured in the last eight Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams and forged a partnership with Dustin Johnson in Hazeltine.

A 5&4 victory over Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters in Friday’s foursomes, followed by a 2&1 victory alongside Phil Mickelson in the Saturday afternoon fourball, show his effectiveness alongside the USA’s best.

Top-10 finishes at The Open, Houston Open and the Phoenix Open have kept him firmly in the picture for an inclusion in Furyk’s team.

Should Mickelson make the cut as expected, Furyk will also have options when he pairs his golfers – with Kuchar in line to play alongside Mickelson or Johnson once again.

Xander Schauffele

The Open Championship 2018 - Day Three - Carnoustie Golf Links Source: Richard Sellers

A “dream come true” is how Xander Schauffele described the possibility of making it into this year’s Ryder Cup as a captain’s pick.

He will know better than most what he needs to do to impress Furyk and chuckled as he was paired alongside him for the opening two rounds of the PGA Championship at Bellerive earlier this month.

After navigating the opening round, the 24-year-old no doubt gave the Ryder Cup captain food for thought with back-to-back 67s, before slipping down the rankings on the final day to finish in a share of 35th place.

Excluding his missed cut at the Northern Trust last week, the world number 20 has impressed in recent weeks and missed out on a maiden Major championship, finishing two shots behind Francesco Molinari at The Open in July. A top-six finish at the US Open will only further prove the point that he can perform on the big stage.

Like DeChambeaeu, Schauffele’s youth may be an attractive prospect for Furyk when making his final picks.

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About the author:

Cian Roche

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