Next week's PGA Championship is the final event in which a Tour player can earn points for this year's Ryder Cup team. Numbers 1 through 6 in the standings—Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Davis Love III, Mark Calcavecchia and Hal Sutton, respectively—have clinched berths. Numbers 7 and 8, Scott Hoch and Stewart Cink, are in good shape too. If Tom Lehman (9) slips out of the top 10, he's sure to be one of Curtis Strange's two captain's picks. Only Joe Durant (10) is truly on the bubble. Here, in order of my preference, are the players I'd like to see either catch Durant or be a wild-card selection. (Places in the standings are in parentheses.)
Jim Furyk (11th)
Despite a dismal summer, he's only three points behind Durant. Furyk has been bothered by a sore right wrist and hasn't played well since April, when he tied for sixth in Augusta and tied for ninth in Greensboro, but when he's on his game, he's one of the toughest outs (see Nick Faldo, 1997 Ryder Cup singles; Sergio Garcia, '99 singles).
Paul Azinger (19th)
The heart and soul of the 1991 and '93 teams, Zinger has the kind of experience and take-no-prisoners attitude that any squad needs.
Brad Faxon (12th)
A good putter is a match for anyone, and Faxon is one of the best. He's an especially good fit on a U.S. team that figures to be long on streaky greensmiths (Calcavecchia, Durant, Hoch, Lehman and Sutton). If Furyk or Azinger bumps Durant to 11th, Faxon is a logical captain's pick.
Scott Verplank (17th)
Gritty in the Corey Pavin mold, Verplank (left) has overcome Ian Baker-Finch-type adversity. He's short but straight, hits a lot of greens and scrambles like Denny's.
Rocco Mediate (14th)
Don't laugh, this happy-go-lucky chatterbox has raised his game, finishing 15th at the Masters and fourth at the U.S. Open. A machinelike ballstriker, he's dangerous when he gets it going with his long putter, and he has Ryder Cup experience—as a photo assistant, in 1991. I look for Mediate to make his move this week at the Buick, at which he's the defending champ.
David Toms (13th)
He's capable of birdie binges—he shot 127 on the weekend during his come-from-behind win in New Orleans—which makes him a great better-ball partner. He's had lower back ailments, though, so a 36-hole day could be a problem.
Kirk Triplett (20th)
A nice guy who has had a nice season—a sixth at the Masters and a tie for seventh at the U.S. Open—Triplett was spectacular in last year's Presidents Cup, in which he formed a dynamic duo with Cink.
Justin Leonard (23rd)
You'd like to see the hero of Brookline get an at bat at the Belfry, but aside from the Texas swing, Leonard hasn't been in the top 15 since January and has missed the cut in all three majors.