PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup spot on line at Bellerive
ST. LOUIS — In the final week for Americans to qualify for the Ryder Cup team, Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele wound up in the same group as U.S. captain Jim Furyk at the PGA Championship.
Furyk says it was just a coincidence.
“I think it’s a great pairing for me,” Furyk said. “It probably isn’t the best pairing for them.”
Furyk has been around long enough to understand the additional pressure of the PGA Championship in a Ryder Cup year. It is effectively two tournaments in one — the final major of the year and one last chance to avoid having to audition as a captain’s pick.
Furyk had to rely on a pick in 2012, and he wasn’t so fortunate in 2016, when he finished 15th in the points and went to Hazeltine as a vice captain.
“It’s stressful,” he said. “I think you’re already on edge going into a major championship with an opportunity. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves as players. It’s like there’s two scoreboards — one for playing and one you’re checking out the guys around you. … But what you have to keep reminding yourself as a player is you really have a job to do this week.”
That’s why he sent a text to Schauffele, the PGA Tour rookie of the year last season who contended deep into the British Open on Sunday until a bogey on the 17th hole left him two shots behind. He moved to No. 11, and with one-and-a-half the value of points for everyone but the winner at Bellerive, this is a big chance.
If not, the 25-year-old from San Diego might see this as an audition.
“I was trading some information with Xander. I just wrote a little text saying, ‘Boy, I saw you got the bad end of the stick on the pairings this week.’ A little smiley face came back on the text. I probably will let them both know I didn’t ask for it and just go play golf and have fun.”
The top four players already have clinched a spot for the Sept. 28-30 matches in France — Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed. They are followed by Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson, who has a narrow lead over Bryson DeChambeau.
Phil Mickelson is at No. 10, and there is pride at stake. Mickelson has never had to rely on being a captain’s pick, dating to his first team he made in 1995.
Because the PGA Tour manufacturers the pairings for its tournament, Furyk said he was offered the chance to choose whom he wanted in his group for the opening two rounds. He decided to not to.
“I just didn’t think that would be fair to the guys,” he said.
Stewart Cink was the only player with whom Furyk played twice in the opening rounds. Kevin Kisner is the only player among the top 20 in the U.S. standings who played with Furyk, at the RBC Heritage.
Among those in the top 50, Furyk also played once with Patrick Cantlay, Andrew Landry, Charles Howell III, Brandt Snedeker and James Hahn.
Points are based on every $1,000 a player makes in PGA Tour earnings, with double points for the winner of the PGA Championship, and 1 1/2 points for everyone else. Everyone down to Chris Stroud at No. 85 in the standings has a mathematical chance by winning — maybe further down if the PGA raises its purse.
Tiger Woods is at No. 20, roughly $130,000 in PGA Championship earnings from the No. 8 spot. He already is a vice captain and has talked to Furyk since January about the possibility of a dual role if he also played.
Furyk was in that spot two years ago — under consideration for a pick who was involved as a vice captain in deciding. He would not commit to saying whether Woods has done enough because there’s still one more tournament.
“It’s fun to see him put himself in the mix,” Furyk said. “And being 20th on the points with very few events is a pretty good spot.”
Furyk took five players with him to Le Golf Nacional in Paris the weekend before the British Open to see the Ryder Cup course — Finau was part of that group, along with Watson, Spieth, Kisner and Brian Harman.
Finau, at No. 13 in the standings, did not appear the least bit stressed when he finished his final practice round Wednesday at Bellerive.
“I’ll try my best to stay in the moment,” he said. “There’s a lot going on, a tournament within a tournament. Everyone looks at differently. I have a chance to do something special this week — try to win a major, just like 155 other guys. That’s all my focus is on.”
Finau has finished in the top 10 at all the majors this year, even at the Masters, where he rolled his ankle during the Par 3 Tournament.
“I feel good for the final major. The preparations are done,” he said. “I’m going to grab some lunch and get in some pool time with the kids.”