There is a lull in proceedings between the final major of the season and the Ryder Cup. Brooks Koepka has now won three majors in little over a year and is currently the most prolific major champion. However, the final round of the USPGA Championship proved that Tiger Woods is now a contender in the four tournaments that matter most. Rory McIlroy will not be so happy as he looks back on his performance overall in the four major championships in 2018.
Koepka has qualified and McIlroy is a certainty for the Ryder Cup but Woods is relying on a wildcard to play in the biennial match between the best players from the United States and Europe. Phil Mickelson is another player with a long history in the matches who won’t qualify through the qualifying points he has won. Jim Furyk, the US captain, would get some stick if he invited Woods and Mickelson to play and Europe won this year’s Ryder Cup. He will probably combine current form and experience in his picks but that makes Woods a good choice.
Captains Thomas Bjorn and Furyk both have four picks. The leading four players on the Race to Dubai points list and the leading four players in the world point’s list play for Europe. The US eight automatic places are taken from their Ryder Cup standings after the end of last week’s PGA Championship. The US team qualifying process is over but in Europe there are more qualifying events. The US are defending the trophy but they have lost the last five matches in Europe.
The implications for the two main tours this week are that there are Ryder Cup points up for grabs in the Nordea Masters in Europe. There is nothing to play for in this context except form and impressing the captain in the Wyndham Championship in the States. The better players often take the week off after a major and refocus and that is reflected in the quality of the fields and the open nature of both tournaments. The golf action this week lends itself to some outsiders doing well and big priced contenders.
The Nordea (Scandinavian) Masters has a secondary tour feel about it and with Thorbjorn Olsen the favourite we are not talking about a stellar field. The event is being played at Hills Golf Club in Gothenburg and is the only tournament in Sweden on the tour schedule. No player has defended the title but Renato Paratore the champion a year ago clearly has a game suited to the course and can win again at this level. There is a strong contingent of Swedish players including Alexander Bjork and Joakim Lagergren winners this season but others are preferred.
Olsen can justify favouritism because he has plenty to play for, most importantly automatic selection for the Ryder Cup. He won the Italian Open in June and has produced some great efforts in recent weeks at major championship and WGC level. Bjorn is a Dane so he would love his compatriot to qualify by right. The captain would face the dilemma of giving his fellow countryman a spot ahead of players not from Denmark. Olsen can take that choice out of the equation by winning this week and deservedly earning a place in the Ryder Cup.
Webb Simpson is the favourite for the Wyndham Championship and he can complete the double for the market leaders and favourite backers. He won the tournament in 2011 and is second in the all-time money list. Simpson has made the cut eight times in nine visits and that includes five top 15 finishes. He has made the top 25 on his last three starts and is suited to a course that puts a premium on accuracy over distance. Simpson can make hay on the relatively easy par 70 track.
This week’s tournaments provide opportunities for the lesser lights and some outsiders will make the payout places. However, the bookies have called both tournaments right and the favourites can win on both sides of the Atlantic.