U.S. Open 2018: Woods, Garcia and the players in need of Ryder Cup points
If Tiger Woods and the rest of the star-studded field at the U.S. Open needed any more motivation than the prospect of enjoying major glory this weekend, then the offer of sizeable Ryder Cup points is sure to focus the already razor-sharp minds of the United States and Europe's elite.
The second major of the year is one of the biggest counted events ahead of the biennial contest, making success at Shinnecock Hills of even greater importance for those hoping to make the team.
In-form Francesco Molinari, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy are among the European contingent who are looking well set, while Team USA's options are healthy with Patrick Reed leading the way from Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.
But there are many desperate to impress Europe captain Thomas Bjorn and USA counterpart Jim Furyk at the 118th hosting of the U.S Open, and we have picked out those most in need of a good showing.
Woods will be in Paris no matter what happens between now and September, having been named as one of Furyk's vice-captains. But the 14-time major champion will undoubtedly still harbour ambitions of playing at Le Golf National. However, Woods is way down the American rankings in 35th and in need of big points to get an automatic spot. A captain's pick remains a possibility, but there are plenty above him who may feel they have more legitimate claims.
Two years ago, Jimmy Walker headed to Hazeltine as a major champion, having won the 2016 US PGA Championship. This time around, the 39-year-old's position is not as assured. Walker sits 15th, around 1700 points below Phil Mickelson in eighth spot. Walker's form has improved in recent months, as he recorded three top-10 finishes in a row – including a tied second at the Players Championship – before sharing 20th at the Fort Worth Invitational. A win at Shinnecock would significantly boost his chances.
A two-time major champion and a veteran of five Ryder Cups, Zach Johnson would undoubtedly add valuable experience to Team USA. Johnson, whose only win in the Ryder Cup came two years ago after he missed the 2008 event, could do with a shot in the arm, though. The 42-year-old is 26th on the points list and is struggling for form, achieving just one top-five finish so far in 2018.
With the captains each allowed four picks, the chances of Matt Kuchar not playing in France are remote to say the least. Add in the fact that Kuchar is regarded as one of the nicest guys on Tour, a crucial factor in the team event, then he is surely likely to feature. But, he will want to make sure there are no doubts and a first major title would boost his hopes of automatic selection.
SERGIO GARCIA/HENRIK STENSON
Similarly to Kuchar for the United States, it is hard to imagine that major champions and Ryder Cup stalwarts Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson would fail to receive a captain's pick. But Garcia, who was displaced from an automatic spot after Rafael Cabrera-Bello impressed at the recent Italian Open, will still be keen to do well at Shinnecock and leave Bjorn with no doubts. Stenson's situation is possibly more difficult. The Swede is 17th on the European points list and 13th on the world points list - a few decent performances may be needed to make sure of his place.
Ian Poulter is a man synonymous with the Ryder Cup, not least for his heroics that inspired the 'Miracle of Medinah' in 2012. Struggles with form and fitness meant the Englishman missed out in 2014, but Poulter has been showing signs of his brilliant best again this year – most notably his win at the Houston Open that booked his ticket to the Masters. Poulter has a bit of work to do to earn an automatic pick, though, sitting 26th on the European list and 10th on the world standings. With plenty of other contenders for Bjorn to pick from, Poulter would benefit greatly from a big showing in Shinnecock.
MARTIN KAYMER/GRAEME McDOWELL
Two former U.S. Open champions and two players well versed in the Ryder Cup, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell – the latter one of Bjorn's vice-captains – need big performances to become contenders for playing selection. Kaymer, the 2014 U.S. Open victor who sank the winning putt at Medinah, is 31st and 38th on the respective European and world points list, with McDowell faring little better in 38th and 37th on the two rankings.
Paul Casey made the controversial decision to relinquish his European Tour card in 2015, making him ineligible for selection two years ago. But the Englishman, who last played the Ryder Cup in 2008, opted to re-join the European Tour last year and, as one of the most consistent performers in the game, will represent a big selection boost for Bjorn. Casey will likely need to qualify through the world list to get an automatic pick, he is currently 12th, although he will fancy his chances as one of the captain's choices.