<
>

Ryder Cup subplot on Fowler's mind

play
Day tied for 7th place after first round of Barclays (1:06)

In a first round marked by windy conditions, Jason Day finished the day tied for seventh place, while Jordan Spieth finishes at even par at the Barclays. (1:06)

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The Ryder Cup is coming to Bethpage Black, and it's going to be absolutely bananas. Just imagine a football game crossed with a stock exchange floor under a circus tent. And then imagine trying to play golf in that environment. No, not just golf. The most harrowing, nerve-inducing golf of your life.

Unfortunately, none of this is happening for another eight years. That's nearly a full decade to wonder about all the perils of contesting the biennial nail-biter in the New York-iest of muni courses. Better start clearing your throat now, just in case.

This week, there's a nice, little convergence of those two worlds. The infamous Black course is hosting the Barclays, the first of four PGA Tour playoff events. There isn't exactly a Ryder Cup atmosphere in the air, but the upcoming version of that event is serving as an important subplot to these proceedings.

This is the last tournament for U.S. players to claim the eight automatic qualifying positions that will constitute two-thirds of the American roster. Five of those spots already belong to Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jimmy Walker and Brooks Koepka. Those are locked up. Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson appear fairly safe in the next two spots. Patrick Reed is firmly on the bubble at No. 8, with J.B. Holmes, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar in close pursuit.

Then there's Rickie Fowler.

It isn't often that the player in 12th place on the points list entering the final week would garner so much attention, but it isn't often that the world's eighth-ranked player would find himself in this position.

It's less statistical anomaly than just two lists based on different numbers, but it still qualifies as a bizarre phenomenon. And it has left Fowler trying to play catch-up in a race to make the team.

"One hundred percent," he said when asked how much he's thinking about it. "That's the No. 1 priority coming into the year. I'd say that's always one of the main goals, for sure, coming into a Ryder Cup year. ... It would be nice to have a chance to make that team without having to get picked."

Fowler indeed has that chance this week, but he'll need a strong result. So far, he's on the right track, with an opening-round 4-under 67 that left him tied for third, 2 strokes shy of 18-hole co-leaders Reed and Martin Laird.

Afterward, he was still thinking about the Ryder Cup.

"I'm thinking about it; the other guys are thinking about it," he said. "So if it's even on your mind at all, not that it's pressure in a way, but it's more to think about. I don't mind it. I've always liked kind of being put up against the wall in a corner and having that on me. Going out, I knew that getting off to a good start today was going to be key. I'm in a position where I'm kind of put in a corner where I need to either earn my way on the team or at least prove that I should be there.

"I was excited about getting out there. The game is very close to being really good. I've had some little glimpses of that with rounds here and there. Good, solid start. that's all we can ask for."

Plenty of players talk about wanting to make the Ryder Cup team. Fowler is backing up that talk with his actions.

He competed for the U.S. in the recent Olympics for more than simply Ryder Cup-related reasons, though his enthusiasm to represent his country certainly didn't hurt. Then last week, when most of his highly ranked peers stayed home, he played the Wyndham Championship, finishing in a share of 22nd place in an effort to move up the standings.

"It's a big deal to both of us," explained his longtime caddie, Joe Skovron, "and it's been a big part of our scheduling as of late. That's why we went to Wyndham. We've definitely paid attention to it."

Fowler revealed that he hasn't spoken with U.S. captain Davis Love III lately, though he expects to in coming weeks. Whether that's a happy conversation might depend largely on how Fowler plays the next three days.

Even though the Ryder Cup won't be here at Bethpage Black for another eight years, it's definitely on the mind of many players this week. None more than Fowler.