NORTON, Mass. — This was exactly what Rickie Fowler wanted to hear.
"I'd pick him," a voice called out behind the ninth green Thursday at the TPC Boston, causing Fowler to look over his shoulder and smile.
Too bad this pronouncement came from the caddie for Justin Rose, and not Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who now has the increasingly difficult decision of picking four players to fill out his American team.
The 99-man field in the Deutsche Bank Championship, which starts Friday, feels a lot smaller than that. This is the second event in the FedEx Cup playoffs as it moves closer to the Tour Championship and a shot at the $10 million bonus. But at least for the first few days, the chatter in a half-dozen players who face what amounts to the final audition before Love announces his picks Tuesday in New York.
Fowler is one of those players trying to make an impression. So is Hunter Mahan, who played two groups behind him in the pro-am. And right behind Mahan was Nick Watney, who wasn't even part of the Ryder Cup equation until he won The Barclays on Sunday. That made him No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings, which made him happy. And it made Watney part of the Ryder Cup conversation, which made him ... well, he's not sure what to think.
Watney was such a long shot to make the Ryder Cup team a week ago that he hasn't been measured for a team uniform, and when Love hosted an informal dinner at the PGA Championship three weeks ago for potential Ryder Cup players, Watney didn't even get invited.
"For all I know, I'm not even in the conversation," Watney said. "I'm really not sure. All I can do is go and try to play my best. I know that's watered down and cliche, but it's really true. I'm not really shooting for any number or, 'If I finish in the top 10 I'll make it' because I'm just not sure. I guess I'll just to continue my momentum.
"And if I get that call, I could probably walk to Indy just as fast as fly because I'll be super, super excited."
Indianapolis, where the BMW Championship will be played next week, is the third stop in the playoffs. Getting to Crooked Stick is the goal for some three dozen players at the TPC Boston, because only the top 70 move on.
Among those on the bubble are Vijay Singh (No. 59), Pat Perez (No. 65), Sean O'Hair (No. 74) and Jason Day (No. 88).
Tiger Woods, whose injury-filled season a year ago kept him out of the playoffs, returns to the Deutsche Bank Championship. He won on the TPC Boston in 2006, the year before the FedEx Cup began. Woods fell to No. 3 in the standings because of a dismal weekend at Bethpage, and because players are grouped by their FedEx Cup seeding, he will play the opening two rounds with Watney and Brandt Snedeker, another Ryder Cup possibility.
Woods has talked to Love about the potential picks, and he has an idea what kind of player the captain is considering. But he's not saying, except for the idea that having too many guys from whom to choose is not the worst thing.
"It's nice that we have some depth, and we have some young talent out there to choose from, and we have some guys that are playing well, too, which is great," he said.
Woods pointed out that Paul Azinger came up with this model of waiting three weeks for the captain to make his picks, allowing players extra time to show their form.
"It can give guys an opportunity to play well in big events — two playoff events — but it also showcases guys who are hot, and that's the whole idea is to get guys that are hot," Woods said. "That's the thing that basically Davis and I have been talking about. And I'm sure we'll continue to talk."
It's also given some players time to break into a cold sweat.
Mahan looked to be on the team all year, especially after winning the Match Play Championship and the Houston Open, moving up to No. 4 in the world and making him the highest-ranked American. He has only had one top 10 since then, however, narrowly missed out on earning on the eight qualifying spots after the PGA Championship and didn't do himself any favors by missing the cut at The Barclays.
A small group of reporters was waiting on Mahan when he finished his pro-am on Thursday, and Mahan didn't need to hear a question to know what they wanted.
He also has a plan for the Deutsche Bank Championship.
"The last couple of weeks, I've tried not to think about it. I've tried to relax and play, and I don't feel that's me," he said. "I need to accept it and get excited about it. I do have a chance to make the team. I need to be a little more aggressive with it, relish the opportunity and not hide from it. It's there. It's going to take energy for me not to think about. Hey, I'd rather be in the mix for the Ryder Cup than not."
Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk are in the mix, though most indications are they are good bets to be picked. That would leave two spots for any combination of Fowler, Mahan, Watney, Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and perhaps someone who might win this week, such as Bo Van Pelt or even Bill Haas.
"Playing golf is all I can do," Fowler said. "I don't want the pick to be hard for Davis. ... I hope to play well and make the pick easier."
Fowler's three goals going into the year were to win on the PGA Tour for the first time, get to the Tour Championship for the first time and play in another Ryder Cup. He only has the first goal out of the way. He still controls whether he reaches the next goal.
The Ryder Cup?
That's wide open, making the next four days about more than another big tournament with an $8 million purse and a chance at a $10 million bonus.