MAMARONECK, N.Y. (AP) - As much as Tom Kite wants people not to think of the PGA Championship 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 on to 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 wildcard picks.
The problem for Kite is that absolutely 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.
Also moving down the list since January were Steve Stricker and John Cook, who were 11th and 12th, respectively, after the first month of the season and are now 20th and 19th.
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.
The problem for Kite is the lack of people making a move. Deciding his two captain's picks could be made difficult not because of intense competition, but because of the lack of it.
"The problem I have is that the 11th to 20th guys are not knocking the door down right now," Kite said. "The hot golfers right now are already on the team."
Mathematically, a player as far down the list as No. 25 Scott McCarron could make the team by winning the PGA.
A safe bet is that one of the captain's picks - if not both - will come from the four guys in 14th to 17th place. They are Paul Stankowski, David Duval, Couples and Tom Watson.
Kite, however, did not rule out picking someone below 25th place, perhaps with an eye toward the experience of Payne Stewart or Hale Irwin. It is almost certain that Corey Pavin - a stalwart on the 1995 Ryder Cup team - has played his way out of any consideration
Woods, who said he jokingly recommended to Kite that he make Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus his two choices, thought the most politically correct thing would be to pick the 11th and 12th players to the team. Currently they are Jeff Maggert and Jones.
"If I was captain," Woods said, "I would pick guys who were hot right now, who had been playing well and who are within the top 15."
Seve Ballesteros, the captain of the European team, has two more tournaments after this week before qualifying ends for his squad. His problem is that Jose Maria Olazabal, Jesper Parnevik and Nick Faldo are not among the top 10 and he will be able to select only two of them.
Olazabal, currently 12th, can still play his way on and Faldo could make it with a victory in the PGA. Otherwise, Ballesteros will have a difficult decision to make.
Kite did seem to rule out one player as a captain's choice - himself.
"I would have to do something spectacular to impress the captain, that's for sure," he said.
The problem for Kite is that no one not already on the team is doing anything spectacular. Maybe someone will step forward at the PGA Championship. For some players, this tournament will be the Ryder Cup qualifying school.
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