Monday, 13 August 2012
Tiger Woods  (Getty Images)
Tiger Woods (Getty Images)

After two years of accumulating points, the eight automatic US Ryder Cup team berths were finalised at the conclusion of the 94th US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course.

Among the players to earn an automatic spot was Tiger Woods, who finished in the Number One position, and at Number Eight – the final position – Phil Mickelson, who will set a new US Ryder Cup appearance record at Medinah.

As Rory McIlroy ran away with an eight shot victory at the US PGA Championship on Sunday, there was the intriguing sub-plot as the US Ryder Cup race reached a climax in South Carolina.

Bo Van Pelt began the week at Number 15 and in the end was the only player to pose a threat of breaking into the top eight.

Van Pelt had a chance to knock Number Eight Mickelson out of an automatic spot but slipped down the leaderboard in the final round with bogeys on three of his final five holes leading to a two over par 74.

The Indiana man finished the US PGA in a tie for 18th and moved up four spots to Number 11 in the final standings, three shy of the spot he wanted, but perhaps enough to garner the attention of US Captain Davis Love III.

Love will make his four Captain's Picks on September 4, thus completing the team that will head to Medinah Country Club to face Captain José María Olazábal's European side from September 28-30.

The eight automatic qualifiers

1. Tiger Woods (seventh appearance)

 2. Bubba Watson (second appearance)

 3. Jason Dufner (debut)

 4. Keegan Bradley (debut)

 5. Webb Simpson (debut)

 6. Zach Johnson (third appearance)

 7. Matt Kuchar (second appearance)

 8. Phil Mickelson (ninth appearance – a record for US Ryder Cup appearances)

Bradley, the 2011 US PGA Champion, was on the outside looking in until all but assuring himself a spot with victory at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone last weekend.

He secured his spot, officially, on Sunday as the highest finisher of the US team's top eight at Kiawah Island, finishing in a solid tie for third in his title defence.

"The Ryder Cup means everything," said Bradley, who along with Dufner and Simpson will be making his debut in the transatlantic team event. "It's going to be a real challenge for me that week to stay calm and not get too excited. It's a great event, I can't wait to play."

Bradley actually attended the 1999 matches at Brookline Country Club as a spectator and is eager to see the other side of the ropes come late September.

"Yeah, I went to the '99 Ryder Cup," he said. "Greatest sporting event I've ever been to, so I'm really looking forward to it."

All eight qualifiers have won at least once in 2012 and account for 12 wins overall this season, highlighted by Woods with three and Dufner and Johnson with two apiece.

Watson, of course, won the Masters Tournament in April while Kuchar won The Players Championship in May and Simpson claimed the US Open title in June.

“It means a lot," said Watson when asked about being an automatic qualifier. "It's about representing our country and playing some golf and hopefully win it. But all in all, just like the athletes in the Olympics, all you're trying to do is represent your country well and show people some exciting golf."

The only question mark left is who Love will select for his wildcard Captain’s Picks.

Hunter Mahan finished the qualification period in ninth, despite winning twice in 2012, including the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and will certainly be a strong favourite to claim one of the remaining fourth places in the team.

Ryder Cup veterans Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk finished at tenth and 12th, respectively, and both have the advantage of having successfully partnered Number One qualifier Woods in the past.

The players in spots 13 to 16 are Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and Bill Haas, while every player from one to 16 in the standings has tasted victory on the US PGA Tour in the 2012 season.

Love has plenty of depth to choose from, but it’s a case of ‘wait and see’ until September 4.

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