Moments after draining a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole to secure his second PGA Tour victory of the season, Jason Dufner began contemplating what his clutch performance might mean later this year.
"I hope it gets Davis Love's attention," Dufner said, referring to the U.S. Ryder Cup captain. "Obviously, being a Ryder Cup year... that would be special to have on your résumé and play in, even if it's only one time."
Heading into today's opening round at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Dufner is among several U.S. Ryder Cup hopefuls seeking to enhance their status while trying to secure a plaid jacket at Hogan's Alley. There will be 12 of the top 20 players in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings competing in Fort Worth, where Love also is in the field.
Although a Colonial victory is the focal point of competitors this week, there is no denying that a big paycheck in Fort Worth could be the difference in September between being one of eight players who earn automatic berths on the U.S. team and being among a large group of golfers hoping to receive one of Love's four at-large selections.
Zach Johnson, the 2010 Colonial champ, has been on both sides of that Ryder Cup equation. He made the team on points in 2006 and was an at-large pick in 2010. With Ryder Cup points being tied to a golfer's payday -- a player receives one point for each $1,000 in earnings this week -- Johnson said the margin of separation at the end of the season can be remarkably small between qualifiers and non-qualifiers.
"Really, what it comes down to could be one shot over the course of the year," Johnson said. "You make the bulk of your money in a two- to four-week span out here. It's the same thing with Ryder Cup points. So you have to maximize things in a week when you're playing well."
Dufner, Sunday's winner at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, has done a nice job of doing that in the past month. He's won two events and climbed to third in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings.
Another golfer riding a hot streak is Rickie Fowler, who heads into Colonial week with three consecutive top-10 finishes at tour events and stands seventh in the latest Ryder Cup standings. Fowler, 23, set a goal in January to be an automatic qualifier on the 2012 U.S. team -- he was an at-large pick as a tour rookie in 2010 -- and considers this week a prime opportunity to continue making progress in that direction.
"Right now, my main focus is making the Ryder Cup team," Fowler said. "I want to make it on my own ...without having to be a pick. That way, there would be no questions why I was on the team or why I wasn't."
After taking off last week, Fowler said he feels energized to continue the roll that saw him claim his first PGA Tour title at the Wells Fargo Championship (May 6) followed by a runner-up finish at The Players Championship (May 13).
"The game feels good right now," said Fowler, the 2008 Ben Hogan Award winner who called it "a huge weight off my shoulders" to be a winner on the PGA Tour. "There is no reason that second win isn't coming any week. Why not this week?"
The primary thing working against Fowler and Dufner at Colonial will be lack of experience at a course where local knowledge usually leads to titles. Fowler, 16th last year, is making only his third career appearance. Dufner, 35, will be making his fourth career appearance with no finish better than 59th.
David Toms, the defending Colonial champ, won in his 14th appearance. Before his victory, Toms cracked the top 10 on four other occasions.
"It's a golf course you need a little bit of experience to play," Toms said. "Some guys don't quite give it enough respect. Around here, you have to respect the golf course and know when to back off when the wind starts blowing."
Hunter Mahan, a Colleyville resident, posted his first top-10 finish at Colonial last year -- in his eighth appearance. Like Toms, he acknowledged hidden dangers that newcomers often overlook.
"This course has a lot of angles," said Mahan, the No. 6 player in the world golf rankings and No. 5 player on the U.S. Ryder Cup list. "You don't need to hit a terrible shot to be in a bad spot. You can make big numbers quickly ...It helps to have experience. But I think anybody can win here."
Just like anybody, at this point, is capable of making a major move in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings with three major championships left on the 2012 schedule. At this juncture, Love said players need only to "have one good week and they're right back" in the mix.
For a guy like Fowler, one more big week -- especially one that ends with a trophy presentation -- could basically lock up a Ryder Cup spot. He likes his chances in Fort Worth.
"Obviously, this place has a lot of history and a lot of great winners," Fowler said. "I'm looking to hopefully add my name to that list at some point soon."
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760