RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: Zach Johnson has a huge dilemma on his hands as he prepares to announce his US Ryder Cup squad… but will LIV’s breakaway stars get a fair crack of the whip?
- Johnson is set to name the six picks that will complete his US squad on Tuesday
- America’s captain likely has to pick between eight men for the last three places
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While almost £15million will go to the winner of the PGA Tour Championship on Sunday, the peculiarities of that lucrative tournament in Atlanta are taking a back seat to an announcement on Tuesday which will be worth nothing and everything.
With the Ryder Cup barely a month away, it falls first to US captain Zach Johnson to name the six picks that will join the six men who have already qualified for the match in Rome. On September 4, Luke Donald will do likewise, albeit to less intrigue than his counterpart.
As with so much in golf, there is a significant LIV question to be asked around the forthcoming American team, because unlike the European situation, there are a number of stars from the breakaway circuit who are eligible and with strong claims.
A complication in that regard is Brooks Koepka, who on the final week of qualifying fell outside the top in the order and now needs a pick. Having won the US PGA Championship and excelled at the Masters, it is inconceivable that the five-time major winner would be left out and he has this week received the vocal backing of Scottie Scheffler, who led the US list of qualifiers, which also includes Wyndham Clark, Brian Harman, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa and Xander Schauffele.
US team captain Zach Johnson is set to name his full 12-man Ryder Cup squad on Tuesday
Koepka’s selection would leave five spots and that is where the picture gets hazy. Johnson’s vice-captain Fred Couples has already taken the slightly unusual step of publicly saying Cameron Young and Jordan Spieth will be in Italy, which was a nod to the former’s consistency and the latter’s track record, and in theory that means three places are up for grabs.
The dilemma, then, is spread across Collin Morikawa, who is arguably the finest iron player in golf and carded 61 and 64 in his first two rounds at the Tour Championship, as well as Keegan Bradley, Sam Burns, Rickie Fowler, in-form Lucas Glover and Tony Finau. To re-introduce the LIV issue, Talor Gooch has won three times in six months and Bryson Dechambeau also claimed a victory recently that included a round of 58.
But will that latter two get a fair crack of the whip when Johnson has seemingly been so disinterested in their tour? When asked by Mail Sport at the US PGA Championship why he wouldn’t undertake a scouting mission, he pointed to too many other commitments and was even unaware on which television station he might find them, though he is hardly unique in that sense.
Of that bunch, Morikawa would seem to be a lock, though the curveball could yet come from Justin Thomas, who has had a woeful season but a proven history alongside Spieth. In an arena where partnerships are worth their weight in gold – the pairing of Cantlay and Schauffele being the other example – Johnson might well lean that way, though either eventuality will be seen as controversial.
Collin Morikawa is likely to be one of eight players battling it out for the final three places
But will LIV breakaway stars such as Talor Gooch get a fair crack of the whip from Johnson?
As with Morikawa, Bradley was also going well at East Lake with loops of 63 and 67 ahead of Saturday’s third round. The other hopefuls were all down the order at the halfway point.
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy was contending to defend his title despite experiencing back spasms this week. The fact he is battling a problem that has scaled in his ability to drive the ball at full tilt will be a concern to Donald, as will Shane Lowry’s missed cut at the Czech Masters.
On the course, McIlroy finished one-over for the day and nine-under in total, leaving him 11 shots back of leader Hovland in tied-eighth