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Column: Ryder Cup team filled with uncertainty a month out

August 24, 2021 GMT
Tony Finau celebrates after winning The Northern Trust golf tournament at Liberty National Golf Course Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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Tony Finau celebrates after winning The Northern Trust golf tournament at Liberty National Golf Course Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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Tony Finau celebrates after winning The Northern Trust golf tournament at Liberty National Golf Course Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — The message Steve Stricker wanted to impart when he took the job as Ryder Cup captain was for the American team to move forward.

There has been no shortage of speed bumps along the way.

Consider the most recent developments in a two-hour window Monday involving two players not even in the same place.

Tony Finau, a big presence and beloved figure, finally got the win he desperately needed at The Northern Trust with a 30 on the back nine at Liberty National that led to a playoff victory. That moved him to No. 6 in the Ryder Cup standings and all but secured his spot on the team.

About the time Finau was making his charge, Patrick Reed delivered an update from his home in Houston that had him moving in the opposite direction.

Reed, who pulled out of The Northern Trust with an ankle injury that he thought would heal with another week of rest, disclosed he had been in the hospital with bilateral pneumonia.

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“I’m on the road to recovery, once I’m cleared from the doctors — I look forward to returning,” Reed said in a statement. “I wish you all the best and I can’t wait to get back out there!”

Except that he might have to wait a while.

Reed had to withdraw from this week’s BMW Championship, the second of three FedEx Cup playoff events where points are quadrupled in value. He started the postseason at No. 22. Not playing last week dropped him to No. 26.

And with a 69-man field and no cut at Caves Valley outside Baltimore, odds are against him staying among the top 30 who advance to the Tour Championship.

The BMW Championship is the final week for Americans to earn one of six automatic spots on the Ryder Cup team, and this is one area of minimal drama.

Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas all have mathematically clinched their spots.

Finau is holding down the last spot, though Stricker has six captain’s picks and Finau most certainly would receive one of them if he gets passed by Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth or Harris English.

Reed is at No. 10 and needs a captain’s pick.

Does he get one?

Oddly enough, Reed was the first player Stricker called when he was about to be announced as the captain in late February 2019.

The circumstances were different. The Americans were coming off another loss to Europe, and Reed looked bad by complaining to The New York Times that Spieth was the reason they didn’t play together, captain Jim Furyk was not smart to have Reed on the bench for two matches and Europe was better at putting team ahead of ego.

Stricker just wanted to be sure Reed was all in, and Reed assured him he was.

Moving forward.

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Never mind the grief (and penalty) Reed brought on himself for swiping away sand before hitting a shot in the Bahamas in December 2019, a violation that followed him Down Under to the Presidents Cup and led to his caddie, brother-in-law Kessler Karain, getting suspended for shoving a fan at Royal Melbourne.

Reed has one of the best short games in golf. He’s among the fiercest in match play. If the Americans want their best players, it’s hard to leave him out.

But then there’s that small matter of form.

Reed won at Torrey Pines in late January and hasn’t had a serious chance to win since then. His last top-10 finish was three months ago at the Memorial, where a good final round allowed him to tie for fifth, five shots out of the playoff.

If he does get a pick, he will have gone five weeks without competition heading into the Ryder Cup, unless he plays the week before the Sept. 24-26 matches at Whistling Straits.

So one piece comes together with Finau winning, another falls apart with so much uncertainty over Reed.

And that’s without broaching the uncomfortable matter of DeChambeau and Koepka, whose only newsworthy feats the last few months have been their bickering.

DeChambeau has stopped talking to the media unless he has a paid endorsement or it’s a safe and happy interview with a PGA Tour television partner.

That stems from him missing the Olympics because of a positive COVID-19 test, and then telling reporters he hasn’t been vaccinated because he’s young and healthy and shouldn’t be getting the vaccine ahead of those who need it. When criticized and presented by facts such as there not being a vaccine shortage in the U.S., he switched to silent mode.

But he was willing to share news on Instagram that he has been invited to the Long Driver’s Association world championship outside Las Vegas.

DeChambeau called it an amazing opportunity to grow the game. He’s been working hard to get his swing speed up so he’ll have a chance. Rest assured, he will continue to play his best golf with “my regular day job.”

This takes place the day after the Ryder Cup.

Moving forward, indeed, one speed bump at a time.

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