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Rickie Fowler gets Ryder Cup shot

LEMONT, Ill. -- Think back to that little media center dust-up at the PGA Championship a few weeks ago, and now you can chuckle at all that finger-pointing, name-calling and heightened tension in Wisconsin.

Corey Pavin may very well have been undecided then about the worthiness of Tiger Woods for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. And he might have actually contemplated it until the last minute on Tuesday when he announced his four at-large selections.

But when it finally became official at a New York City gathering, Woods' selection hardly rated as news.

Once the 14-time major winner professed his desire to be part of the U.S. team that will take on Europe next month in Wales -- and showed some semblance of form, any semblance of form -- it was a foregone conclusion that he would be picked.

Yes, there have been cries for him to step aside, that he should forget the Ryder Cup and work on his game, etc.

Of course, you could say that about Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink, two of the other major champions Pavin picked for his squad without a whole lot of angst. Both became clear contenders once the automatic eight were decided at Whistling Straits, even though they, too, have had their difficulties in 2010.

Then there is Rickie Fowler, the fourth and final choice, a PGA Tour rookie who has won … well, nothing.

Fowler became the first U.S. captain's pick who has never won a tournament. He hasn't even finished among the top 30 in his past four tournaments. He hasn't been in the top 20 since the British Open (where he tied for 14th) and has no top-10s since early June, when he blew a 3-shot lead in the final round of the Memorial and came in second.

So why did Pavin pick him?

"It came down to a feeling," he said. "I have a gut feeling about Rickie."

Fowler does have five top-10s this year, including another second place, at the Phoenix Open. He began his professional career with consecutive top-10s last year, losing in a playoff at the Frys.com Open. He's considered one of the game's strong, up-and-coming players, a guy who could play on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams for the next 20 years.

Do the negatives outweigh the positives?

Perhaps. But then again, you could pick apart the résumé of every player picked and every player in the mix who got the disappointing phone call that he would have to sit this one out.

"I think the one thing that we are all very clear on with Corey is that you really could not make a bad decision," said Tom Lehman, one of Pavin's four assistants who captained the 2006 U.S. team in Ireland. "He had nothing but good choices."

And nothing but flawed choices, as well.

That's the problem Pavin faced that neither he nor any of his lieutenants would ever admit.

For all the capable candidates at his disposal, none of them stepped up in the past month or so and unequivocally declared that it would be a travesty if he were not picked.

Charley Hoffman? He won the Deutsche Bank on Sunday in impressive fashion, but didn't play in a single major championship this year.

Lucas Glover? The 2009 U.S. Open champion fell out of the top eight at the PGA (where he missed the cut), then held a back-nine lead in Greensboro, N.C., before faltering down the stretch.

Anthony Kim? He was a lock to make the team when he had thumb surgery in May -- hoping to be at his best in time for the Ryder Cup -- but his results, including four straight missed cuts, did not warrant a pick.

The truth is, nobody really shined coming down the stretch, certainly not like Italy's Edoardo Molinari, who won Europe's final qualifying event, all but forcing captain Colin Montgomerie to choose him.

Zach Johnson, who won the Colonial earlier this year and has played on one Ryder Cup and two Presidents Cup teams, finished third and missed a playoff at the PGA Championship by a single stroke. Yet that was one of just two top-10s (the other by Glover in Greensboro) posted in the past month by Ryder Cup hopefuls ranked ninth to 20th in the points standings.

Cink, who hasn't won since his triumph over Tom Watson at Turnberry more than a year ago, has had four straight top-20 finishes (although just three top-10s all year, none since the Memorial) and brings the experience of four Ryder Cups and four Presidents Cups.

Woods, of course, is Woods -- even if he is not the same player right now and has gone a year since his 71st PGA Tour title. Still, his current golf-related flaws are no worse than those of any of his teammates, and he did go 5-0 last year at the Presidents Cup, including 4-0 with Steve Stricker -- a pairing Pavin should not even consider messing with.

Which leads us back to Fowler, and perhaps one of the reasons he was chosen. The team has a good mixture of veterans and youngsters (he brings to five the number of rookies out of 12 players) but one of the automatic qualifiers was sticking out: Bubba Watson.

He and Fowler are buddies; they hang out a good bit at tour events, including practice rounds. They know each other well and might just be a goofy enough tandem to make for a good pairing, let alone provide some team levity.

Pavin said it was more about a "feeling," but perhaps it became more of a practical matter. Besides, who else would have been better to take?

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.