That starts with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
They both have two tournaments remaining before qualifying ends at the PGA Championship. The top nine earn automatic spots on the U.S. team that goes to Scotland in September to try to win back the cup.
Tom Watson has three captain’s picks.
Woods will have to rely on a captain’s pick unless he finishes at least third at the Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship. Mickelson has more realistic chance. He is the equivalent of $198,056 in earnings behind Zach Johnson in the No. 9 spot, and money counts double at the PGA Championship.
The British Open went a long way toward sewing up a few spots on the team. Rickie Fowler, a runner-up at Hoylake, moved up to No. 3 and locked up a spot. Jim Furyk, who closed with a 65 to finish alone in fourth, moved up to No. 4 and can expect to be at Gleneagles. Right behind him is Dustin Johnson, with Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar trailing. The top seven look pretty solid.
Where it gets tight is at the bottom. Only $430,275 separates Jason Dufner at No. 8 from Webb Simpson at No. 15.
In dire need of some good finishes are Keegan Bradley (No. 16), Brandt Snedeker (No. 28) and Hunter Mahan (No. 34).
AMERICAN FALL: American golfers suddenly have their work cut out for them to get back toward the top of the world ranking.
Justin Rose, of England, won at Congressional. Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, won the British Open and Sergio Garcia, of Spain, was a runner-up. And just like that, there are no Americans among the top five for the first time since the end of 2011.
Adam Scott, of Australia, remains No. 1, with McIlroy at No. 2. Henrik Stenson (Sweden) is No. 3, followed by Rose and Garcia. That’s one Aussie and four Europeans atop the world ranking. Americans do occupy five of the next six spots – Bubba Watson is the highest-ranked American at No. 6 – and they have 11 in the top 20.
Woods, who started the year at No. 1, is all the way down to No. 9.
The top five at the end of 2011 were Luke Donald (England), Lee Westwood (England), McIlroy, Martin Kaymer (Germany) and Scott. Steve Stricker was No. 6, and then won the first event of the year at Kapalua.
IRISH EYES: McIlroy had just built a six-shot lead when rain pounded the tent with such force he could hardly hear himself speak. The timing couldn’t have been better. The R&A went to a two-tee start for the first time, and the third round ended 30 minutes before the storm.
“The second-best decision the R&A has ever made,” McIlroy said.
The first one? Bringing The Open back to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for only the second time in history, of course.
It was a reminder of how Irish eyes are smiling.
Just think back to the last time The Open was at Royal Liverpool in 2006. There had not been an Irish major champion since Fred Daly (at Hoylake) in 1947. Since then, Europe won the Ryder Cup in Ireland. Padraig Harrington won three majors in the next two years. Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open in 2010. McIlroy won the first of his three majors the next year, and Darren Clarke won the claret jug in 2011 at Royal St. George’s.
“It’s the golden generation,” McDowell said. “Eight major championships. It’s added something to the pot. Pretty exciting times.”
THE WRONG SIDE: The wind wasn’t as vicious as it was for a British Open, but it was still enough to make a difference.
The wind increased noticeably Thursday afternoon and stayed that way through Friday morning. Anyone teeing off early on Thursday and late on Friday got the better end of the draw. Of the 72 players who made the cut, 45 came from the late-early side.
Scott got the wrong end, so it was not surprising that the world No. 1 was the only player from the top eight at Royal Liverpool who went late-early. That’s why he wasn’t too down on himself when he finished five shots behind.
“Look, I’m going to give myself a little bit of a break and say it was such a lopsided draw this week, having only a couple guys in the top 25 after two rounds play on my side of the draw,” Scott said. “It makes it hard to compete when Rory has obviously played two beautiful rounds. Being nine back in really nice conditions over the next two days, it was very hard to catch up.”
Not that Scott was complaining. He has played enough to get on the right side of the tee sheet. Padraig Harrington most recently got the worst of the weather and still managed to win at Royal Birkdale in 2008. Scott does not like the idea of a two-tee start for Thursday and Friday, as is done at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
“It’s just the way it goes,” Scott said. “I’ve been on the good side, too. Hopefully, I’ll be on the good side again sometime. But that’s the way it is.”
THE SCOTTY: Kirk Triplett once said of caddie Scott Steele, “It didn’t matter if you were a major champion or a Monday qualifier, you always got his best game.” Steele was among the more popular caddies on the PGA Tour. He died of a heart attack in October 2012 after the opening round of a Champions Tour event.
He now is remembered through “The Scotty,” a charity tournament scheduled Monday at Peninsula Lakes Golf Club in Canada. It’s being run by his stepson, Tom Vanderlip, the general manager at the club who knew nothing about golf until Steele married his mother when he was 15.
Each hole featured an image, quote or memory about Steele that is auctioned off with proceeds going to a scholarship fund in Steele’s name.
DIVOTS: Holly Sonders is leaving Golf Channel to join Fox Sports as a golf reporter and host of the network’s coverage of USGA events starting next year. Sonders also will be a sideline reporter during the network’s NFL coverage. ... The 23-shot difference between Woods and British Open champion McIlroy was his largest deficit in the majors. His previous high was 17 shots behind Davis Love III at Winged Foot in the 1997 PGA Championship. The most Woods ever finished behind the winner at a regular event was 30 shots at Firestone in 2010, a week before he hired Sean Foley as his third swing coach.