Sam Burns sharp again as US Ryder Cup picks loom

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Sam Burns watches his tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the BMW Championship golf tournament, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Sam Burns would certainly love to represent the United States at the Ryder Cup.

He also understands just how unpredictable the selection process can be for an event like that.

Four years ago, when he was a standout at LSU, Burns won the Jack Nicklaus player of the year award for Division I. Then he was left off the U.S. team for the Walker Cup. Now 25, he’s a possible candidate for September’s Ryder Cup, but there’s only so much time he can spend worrying about it.

“There’s six guys that are guaranteed to make it. If you’re not in that six, you know some of that’s out of your control,” said Burns, who was tied for the lead after the first round of the BMW Championship on Thursday. “Captain (Steve) Stricker can go whatever route he wants. So just knowing that, that it’s not all necessarily in my control, I’m just going to go out and try to play the best golf I can.

“If it works out, incredible. If it doesn’t, I’ll be rooting hard for the team.”

Burns shot an 8-under 64 at Caves Valley on Thursday to share the lead with Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. This is a pressure-packed event, with the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings advancing to next week’s Tour Championship. This also is one of the final chances for players like Burns to audition for a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

The top six Americans in the Ryder Cup points standings after this tournament earn spots. Then Stricker’s six captain’s picks come a week later, after the Tour Championship at East Lake. For players like Burns — 17th in the Ryder Cup standings — the scramble is on to impress Stricker.

Burns, who shot 64 for the fourth time in his last eight rounds, at least can be confident of making it to East Lake. Players like Kevin Kisner and Webb Simpson are on the bubble in more ways then one. They’re trying to play their way onto the Ryder Cup team, and they’re trying to make sure they qualify for the Tour Championship — so their Ryder Cup audition doesn’t end early.

“I obviously haven’t been in good enough form to be comfortable for next week, so it’s going to take a special week,” Simpson said.

Simpson entered this event in 52nd place in the FedEx standings. He needs a big week in Maryland, and he’s off to a good start after a first-round 67.

“I was actually all over the golf course it seemed like for the first 10 or 12 holes,” said Simpson, who has appeared in the Ryder Cup three times. “Got some good breaks with good lies in the rough and just managed today really well.”

Kisner, who is 31st in the FedEx Cup standings, shot 72 on Thursday. Daniel Berger, another Ryder Cup hopeful, is in better shape after a first-round 68. He came into the tournament 23rd in the FedEx Cup standings.

Berger has no Ryder Cup experience, but he won at Pebble Beach in February and posted top-10 finishes at the U.S. Open and British Open. Kisner won the Wyndham Championship two weeks ago but then missed the cut last week at Liberty National.

Although it may feel like these last few events will determine who gets the final captain’s picks, Berger said that’s not necessarily the case.

“I think one week is not going to make a difference,” Berger said. “I mean, it would make a difference, but I think it’s going to be about how you played over the two years, and that’s who he’s going to pick.”

Simpson also is trying to keep this tournament in perspective — with so much obviously at stake.

“You can never force things in this game, and I can’t white-knuckle making birdies,” Simpson said. “My goal today was just to have a good solid start, and there’s ebbs and flows in a 72-hole golf tournament, and so I did exactly what I needed to do for round one.”

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