As much as Tom Kite wants people not to think of the PGA Championship in Mamaroneck, N.Y., as qualifying school for the Ryder Cup, that’s exactly what it is for about two dozen Americans at Winged Foot this week.
In addition to being the last major championship of the year, the 79th PGA is also the last tournament in which players can earn their way onto the U.S. team that will play Europe in Spain this September.
When the last putt falls Sunday night, Kite will know the names of the 10 players who have qualified for the Ryder Cup. Monday morning the American captain will announce the names of his two wild-card picks.
The problem for Kite is that no one not currently ranked in the top 10 is making a major move to get on the team, or even warrant consideration as a captain’s choice.
“What I need is someone stepping forward this week and making a statement,” Kite said Tuesday at Winged Foot as he prepared to play in the PGA Championship. “I have a lot of guys wanting to be on the team. But they aren’t making a statement.”
In fact, four of the top 10 players at the end of January have played their way out of the automatic spots. And of those four - Mark Brooks, Steve Jones, Kenny Perry and Fred Couples - only Couples has played well enough to merit consideration as a captain’s pick.
“Even with his limited schedule he’s made it to 16th place,” Kite said.
Tiger Woods, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk have spots locked up. Phil Mickelson and Mark O’Meara are virtually certain.
Brad Faxon, Scott Hoch, Tommy Tolles and Davis Love III - in positions seven through 10 - are vulnerable if anyone behind them makes a move.
Mark Brooks, last year’s PGA Championship winner, isn’t the only 1996 major winner having a tough go of it this year. Of the four, only Tom Lehman (British Open) has come close to winning a major this year.
While Steve Jones (U.S. Open) won in Arizona, his best finish in a major this year is 48th at the British Open.
And then there’s Nick Faldo. He missed the cut as defending champion at the Masters, tied for 48th at the U.S. Open and tied for 51st at the British Open. Faldo has finished in the top 25 of at least one major every year since 1977, when he tied for 62nd at the British Open.
New sticks for Tiger
Tiger Woods is still playing with Mizuno clubs, nearly a year after turning pro and signing with Titleist.
That could be about to change.
Woods said Tuesday that Titleist is “extremely close” to finishing a set of irons for him to play. He tested them in early July, the week after winning the Western Open.
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