The hopefuls stated their case Sunday — some with their golf clubs, others with their words — at the Tour Championship at East Lake GC in Atlanta.
The decision now rests with Madison's Steve Stricker, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain who will crunch the numbers, analyze the data, project the potential pairings and announce Wednesday the final six selections for Team USA for the upcoming Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.
There are nearly a dozen golfers thought to be on Stricker's short list to join automatic qualifiers Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay, who shot 67-66-67-69 and used his 10-under start for holding the No. 1 spot in the FedEx Cup standings to get to 21-under for the week and hold off Spain's Jon Rahm by one stroke to win the $15 million first-place payday.
Here is how the outcome of the Tour Championship might impact Stricker's decision and how the stock of some golfers went up, some went down and others held steady with a trip to Wisconsin for the biennial matches Sept. 24-26 potentially hanging in the balance:
Overview: Popular opinion held that Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth – Nos. 7, 8 and 9 in the final U.S. Ryder Cup standings – are locks on Stricker's list and really couldn't do anything at East Lake to change that perception. Fortunately for the U.S. captain, they only enhanced their importance to Team USA by closing out the PGA Tour season strong.
How he fared: Fourth place, 14-under-par (68-68-67-64).
What he showed: Schauffele birdied his final four holes and five of his last six to finish the 2020-21 season with a bang. He will be making his Ryder Cup debut, but his statistical consistency and versatility — he ranked 17th in shots gained tee-to-green and 20th in shots gained putting — could make him a key piece of Stricker's Ryder Cup puzzle.
What he said: Asked Sunday what he would bring to Team USA, Schauffele said: "Points. We need points to win Cups, and I think I can win some points. I won three at the Presidents Cup. I lost two, which is a bummer. But I'm really happy that I was able to play in the Presidents Cup. I know the Ryder Cup, with us losing so much, there's extra pressure there. I'm happy I've been in that team format prior and hopefully I can take that team experience moving forward."
How he fared: Tied for 11th, 8-under-par (72-67-73-68).
What he showed: Finau ended an up-and-down week on a strong note and will go into his second Ryder Cup with confidence. After a 2-under 33 on the front nine Sunday, he bogeyed No. 10 and birdied No. 18 to finish off a solid FedEx Cup Playoffs in which he won the Northern Trust in a Monday playoff, finished T-15 at the BMW Championship and used his T-11 finish Sunday to finish second to Cantlay in the season-long FedEx Cup standings.
What he said: Finau said he was not part of the team dinner Stricker had this week with the six automatic qualifiers, but reiterated Sunday his strengths as a likely captain's pick: "I'll just echo a lot of the things I said in 2018. I grew up playing two sports, basketball mostly, and I know what it's like to be in a locker room and a team atmosphere. You have to be selfless. It's more of a team attitude. I know also what it takes to play and be in those situations. So I've just got to bring my best stuff and be ready to play whenever my name is called. Again, it will be an exciting thing if I were to get picked, and I would very much love to be a part of that team."
How he fared: Tied for 20th, 4-under-par (69-67-70-74).
What he showed: A solid start was undone by a miserable weekend culminating with a downright awful final round in which he hit just four of 14 fairways, eight of 18 greens and took 1.74 putts per greens hit in regulation. His resurgence in 2020-21 (he finished ninth in the final FedEx Cup standings) and his Ryder Cup experience (7-5-2 in three past appearances) provide Stricker with intangibles that only a handful of his 12 players will bring to Whistling Straits.
What he said: Asked Saturday about his conversations with Captain Stricker: "Justin (Thomas and I) have been joking with Strick for quite a while now about sending him our best ball scores when one of us plays really well and the other doesn't. And I feel like Justin might withdraw from the team if he doesn't pick me, so I feel pretty good about it."
Overview: We won't know until Wednesday how much the PGA Tour finale and momentum from the FedEx Cup playoffs play a role in Stricker's final selections. If it does, it will be hard for him to overlook Patrick Reed, Kevin Na or Daniel Berger.
How he fared: 25th place, 2-under-par (72-69-66-71).
What he showed: The three-time U.S. Ryder Cup team member drove 12 hours from Dallas to Atlanta for the Tour Championship to show Captain Stricker that he very much wanted to play in a fourth Ryder Cup and was healthy enough to do so. Reed, who missed the first two events of the FedEx Cup playoffs after being hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia, showed his game remains in solid shape, getting better each of the first three rounds before running out of gas down the stretch Sunday and playing his final four holes in 3-over-par after a double-bogey at No. 15 and a bogey at No. 16.
What he said: Asked Sunday if he feels he showed Stricker he will be good to go in three weeks at Whistling Straits, Reed said: "I definitely feel like I am way ahead of where I would say everyone expected me to be health-wise, and also I felt like the game was a lot closer than the score kind of anticipated. With not playing for a while, you expect a couple loose shots here and there, but as a whole, I felt like the way my health was as well as the way my golf game was ... I'm way ahead of schedule now. To be able to have two weeks at home to grind and get ready, I have no doubt if I'm on the team I'll be ready and be 100 percent."
How he fared: Third place, 16-under-par (66-67-66-67).
What he showed: Na, who has never played in either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, served noticed at East Lake that he is ready, willing, able ... and red-hot. Na went his final 57 holes at East Lake without a bogey and beat out American Ryder Cup automatic qualifiers Justin Thomas (fourth), Schauffele (T-5), Bryson DeChambeau (seventh) and Dustin Johnson (eighth) in the battle for third place behind Cantlay and Rahm. In addition, his 14-under 266 total matched Rahm for the lowest score on the golf course absent the staggered scoring bonus given to each of the 30 golfers in the Tour Championship field at the start of the week.
What he said: Na, who said all week he had not been lobbying Captain Stricker for a spot on the U.S. squad, indicated Sunday that he might change his posture in wake of his eye-opening performance at the Tour Championship. "I was trying to win that secret leaderboard, where everybody started from even par, to get Captain Stricker's attention, so I could get a captain's pick. Look, I did the best I could. I have two runner-up finishes in the last six starts, another top-10 at a Playoff event and maybe win or second here. So I mean, from where I started to finish third in the FedExCup, eight shots back, I think I'm looking strong for a pick. I'm definitely going to probably text Captain Stricker. I haven't texted him but I'm going to text him and see what he thinks. I feel like I should be a big consideration for the a pick."
How he fared: Tied for 11th place, 8-under-par (72-69-67-64).
What he showed: Berger might not have turned as many heads at East Lake — and on social media — as Na, but it might not be important in his bid to earn his first Ryder Cup selection. He already had the ear (and phone number) of Captain Stricker, with whom he said he'd been texting all week "about pairings and groupings." Stricker told him that the Tour Championship was not going to be the top factor in whether or not Berger will get the call to Whistling Straits. However, Berger left nothing to chance — bettering his score each of the four days and closing the final round with four consecutive birdies.
What he said: Berger spoke to his consistency over the last two years of the Ryder Cup evaluation process and said Sunday that he would give Stricker a lot of options, if chosen. "I think I'm really good friends with just about everybody that's in the Top 15 on that list, and I feel like I can play with anybody. My game kind of suits all different kind of courses, short, long. I think I drive the ball really well. I putt really well. I chip really well. This year I've done a lot of work improving my iron play and that's shown, and scoring average, I think I'm top 10 in scoring average. When you look at my overall golf game, there's not really any areas that I have a weakness in. I think that's always a nice thing to have on the team."
ON THE BUBBLE
Overview: Experience and intangibles might play a more critical role than recent performance in the final few captain's picks as Stricker tries to plug the few holes among the six automatic qualifiers and three locks to earn at-large selections. If that is the case, the bubble on which Harris English, Billy Horschel or Webb Simpson sit might not be so grim as to keep Stricker from dialing up any or all of their numbers this week.
How he fared: Tied for 18th place, 6-under-par (66-69-75-68).
What he showed: A sluggish third round triggered by a slow start (he bogeyed four of his first five holes) was all that kept English from his ninth top-10 finish in 26 starts during the 2020-21 wrap-around season. At No. 10 in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings, English is the bridge from Schauffele (No. 8) and Spieth (No. 9) to Reed (No. 11) and Berger (No. 12) with a plethora of statistical reasons for Stricker to make him a pick, but the big question continues to be whether English's absence of experience in either the Ryder Cup or President Cup will be a factor.
What he said: English said Sunday that, like Berger, he was led to believe that his performance at the Tour Championship would not determine his Ryder Cup fate. "Yeah, go out and play golf, end of the year and no added pressure to make the Ryder Cup. That's kind of the gist I got from some of the vice captains and Stricker himself. I felt like this week I was trying to compete ... to win a FedExCup and Tour Championship, and didn't do that but hopefully it's good enough to get on the Ryder Cup team. ... We'll see what happens. Obviously, some guys (are) playing good this week that could jump up there. So, we'll see."
How he fared: Tied for ninth, 10-under (65-68-67-70).
What he showed: Horschel bounced back from a bumpy middle of the final round at East Lake (he made four bogeys and played an eight-hole stretch starting at No. 7 in 3-over) and birdied his final hole to cement his place in the top 10. Unfortunately for Horschel, it was his first top-10 finish in an individual PGA Tour event since winning the World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play in March, which continues to be the portion of his resume that presumably kept him on Stricker's radar to this point.
What he said: Horschel admitted Saturday that he had talked to several other golfers consumed by the process leading up to Wednesday's captain's picks and was determined not to let it affect him the way it was affecting them. "I just said, you know, you can only control what you can control. At the end of the day, you know, I won't talk about whether this is true or not, this is the way I look at it: God has a path for us and ... it is what it is. He is going to lead us down what He thinks is the best way. And if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I never fret about it at all."
How he fared: Did not qualify (finished 40th in FedEx Cup standings).
What he showed: The three-time U.S. Ryder Cup member failed to put together four solid rounds of golf after finishing T-4 at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. A T-12 at the BMW Championship was promising, but his 72 in the second round ultimately kept him from threatening the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings and a berth in the Tour Championship. Still, he finished 13th in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings and has the coveted Ryder Cup experience that many of the at-large hopefuls do not.
What he said: Simpson was asked about his Ryder Cup status after an opening 67 at the BMW Championship and his focus was so squarely set on getting to East Lake that he didn't even address it in his answer. "I obviously haven't been in good enough form to be comfortable for next week, so it's going to take a special week. Atlanta is probably my favorite tournament of the year, so there's plenty of incentive for me to get there."
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Overview: It is doubtful the Tour Championship alone will elevate anyone to the top of Stricker's list for his six captain's picks, but it's quite possible the final event ahead of Wednesday's selections will seal the fate of several golfers. If that is the case, count Jason Kokrak, Scottie Scheffler and Stewart Cink among the Ryder Cup's version of the NCAA men's basketball tournament's last three out.
How he fared: Tied for 11th place, 7-under-par (67-68-72-67).
What he showed: Kokrak, who finished 15th in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings, showed great promise in his bid to get Stricker's attention this week by opening 67-68, but his 72-67 finish — he played the final nine holes Sunday in 3-under to break 70 — will probably keep the 36-year-old from being considered for a spot. He missed cuts to finish the PGA Tour's regular season at the Wyndham Championship and the start its postseason at the Northern Trust and didn't have a top-10 after his win at the Charles Schwab Challenge in late May.
What he said: Kokrak did not earn a visit to the interview area at the Tour Championship, a sign that Kokrak would be a long shot at best to get a call from Stricker.
How he fared: Tied for 22nd, 3-under-par (67-72-68-71).
What he showed: A double-bogey at the par-3 15th hole Sunday was the beginning of the end for Scheffler, who bogeyed his final hole to shoot 1-over 71 and tumble outside of the top 20. Scheffler had one of the best major championship records of 2021 — T-18 at The Masters, T-8 at the PGA, T-7 at the U.S. Open and T-8 at the Open Championship — but didn't have a top-20 finish in the FedEx Cup playoffs and will likely have to wait until next time for his first taste of international team competition.
What he said: Scheffler's somber and brief post-round interview Sunday spoke to the disappointment over not giving Stricker more to think about when it came to his chances for a captain's pick.
"How much communication have you had with Stricker?" he was asked.
"Not much. We talked with him for a few minutes beginning of this week and that was about it," Scheffler answered.
"Did he ask you about pairings?" he was asked.
"Yeah," Scheffler responded.
"What are your plans now? Will you go home tonight?" he was asked.
"Yeah, I have a flight to catch and then take a few days off," Scheffler said.
"You keep a straight face. Are you at all antsy now that the tournament is over?" he was asked.
"Yeah, I'd love to be on that team," Scheffler responded.
"Not much more to say?" he was asked.
"Yeah," Scheffler responded.
How he fared: Tied for 26th place, even-par (72-68-71-70).
What he showed: At age 48, Cink showed there is still game in the the five-time U.S. Ryder Cup team member. Just not enough to earn a call from Stricker. After his second victory in the 2020-21 wrap-around season at the RBC Heritage in April, Cink's only top-25 finish in 10 events was a T-21 at The Northern Trust to begin the FedEx Cup playoffs.
What he said: Cink's story earned him a spot in front of the assembled media at East Lake at the start of tournament week, where he acknowledged his Ryder Cup chances had been reduced to a flicker. "Of course I have aspirations for it. I think I probably need to, whatever you call winning this tournament. I need to play really great. ... Winning two times, yes, I've done enough to be in consideration, but I don't think I've been quite consistent enough to really be one of those like last remaining few guys that they're considering for a pick. I would love to be a part of the Ryder Cup again. It just means so much to me and it's so fun, but I would probably need to make an enormous splash here this week to be one of the guys on that little final list."