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U.S. Ryder Cup hopes built on big hitters ... so far

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- At first blush, the crazy eight on the U.S. Ryder Cup team can be classified in broad, sweeping terms.

Long on long and short on short, not to mention straight.

Bubba Watson has a powerful drive -- but his accuracy woes might hurt the U.S. Ryder Cup team. (AP)  
Bubba Watson has a powerful drive -- but his accuracy woes might hurt the U.S. Ryder Cup team. (AP)  
With the last-minute additions of mashers Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson to the U.S. roster on Sunday night after the sand from 92nd PGA Championship finally settled, American captain Corey Pavin said he wasn't leaning in any particular direction regarding the attributes of the four upcoming at-large picks, due Sept. 7.

He probably ought to be.

Watson and Johnson, both Ryder rookies, by the way, rank Nos. 2-3 in driving distance on PGA Tour, yet leave a lot to be desired when it comes to accuracy. They joined an eight-man crew that includes Phil Mickelson (10th in distance) and Ryder rookie Jeff Overton (19th), who have also been known to take the scenic route to the clubhouse.

This isn't shaping up as a classic mix-and-match team. More like mix-and-mash.

When it was suggested Monday morning that when Pavin pares down his list of candidates to four and announces the final picks on Sept. 7, stability might be a nice asset to add to a largely mercurial roster, no?

He made a wisecrack instead.

"I think if I drew it up, I couldn't have drawn it up any better for the eight players that are on the team and the types of players that are there," Pavin said.

No question, Ryder veterans Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker are steady types, but they have a combined record of 8-15-4. Matt Kuchar is a fairways-and-greens guy, but he's a Ryder rookie.

With Tiger Woods almost a lead-pipe cinch to receive one of Pavin's picks -- nobody is wilder through the bag right now than he is -- the list for the three presumed spots remaining gets whittled down awfully fast. Assuming some degree of logic with regard to strengths and weaknesses is eventually applied, anyway.

Hello Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson. Both have won majors, both are rocks of decorum in the locker room, and each is a Ryder veteran. But what do we know?

Assistant captain Paul Goydos even took exception to the characterization that Johnson and Watson are loose cannons.

"We tend to look at players like Bubba and Dustin as one dimensional because they hit it so far, because it overwhelms you," Goydos said. "But the reality is you don't make that [team of] eight without being stable. I think the premise of the question was incorrect. These guys played well all year."

Was it me, or did Johnson miss the center line on the 72nd fairway by about 70 yards on Sunday, when a par would have won him a major? Watching Watson hammer his way around a course without benefit of Dramamine is darned-near impossible. Fans should be issued helmets.

"What's the definition of stable?" Goydos asked. "Stewart Cink is what, 14th in points? These guys have been consistent all year."

True, but they haven't been playing alternate shot or best ball all year, either. A little experience would hardly be a bad thing to sprinkle in, either.

Four of the eight automatic picks are rookies: Watson, who has one tour victory; Dustin Johnson, who has three wins, including two at the same venue; Overton, who represents the first American in history to make a Ryder team with zero career wins; and Kuchar, who has one victory since 2002. For the arithmetically challenged, that's four first-timers with a total of six career wins.

Overton played by himself as the first man off the tee Sunday morning and finished in an astonishing 2:05. According to a PGA employee, he was trotting between shots and the scorer with his group struggled to keep up, which doesn't sound like the most mature behavior ever exhibited at a major, does it? He shot 79 and finished last among those who played 72 holes, though he had previously been reeling off weekly top-10 finishes with impressive regularity.

Woods can practically be penciled in already, even though he is assured of playing in only one more PGA Tour event before the Ryder is staged in 46 days. He stands at 108th in FedEx Cup points and the top 100 advance to the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston the following week, the second of four playoff events and a tournament that benefits Woods' charity.

"I think a couple of things have happened the last couple of weeks," Pavin said of the sputtering world No. 1. "Obviously he played better last week. He's working on some things that seem to be improving his game, so I was obviously pleased to see that happen last week.

"His comments to the press and the media are very positive. He wants to play and he wants to be on the team. Again, he's high on my list. He's certainly a big consideration, no doubt."

Translated: He's a veritable lock, which means it's paramount to find a few other guys who can keep their drives somewhere on the British Isles. The biggest question mark at the moment is Anthony Kim, one of the emotional stars of the Ryder Cup win in 2008. Kim hasn't played well in two starts since returning from a three-month layoff following surgery on his left wrist. He was supplanted in the top eight on Sunday night by Dustin Johnson.

While some other player might get hot over the next three tournaments before Pavin has to deliver his four picks, Kim needs to prove he is healthy enough to be considered. There's no questioning his resolve -- Kim called the Ryder experience two years ago the highlight of his career and making the team was his No. 1 goal this season, before and after the surgery.

"Absolutely, it's a concern," Pavin said of Kim's health status. "He had surgery on his thumb. I spoke with him last week and he said it's getting better. It's certainly not 100 percent, but he's going to be working hard and keep trying to get his thumb in good shape, and believe me, I will be monitoring it very closely.

"He's certainly on my list, as well. There's a lot of guys on it."

The straight truth is that there needn't be. With the ball-vaporizers he already has on the team, and the unpredictable Woods almost certainly to be added, he can narrow the list to those who can find the narrow confines of the fairway.

Somewhere, European captain Colin Montgomerie is growing the rough and dialing in the fairways at Celtic Manor already.


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