Jay Haas is playing some of the best golf of his career this year at age 50, and if the trend continues -- as it did again Thursday in the opening round of the PGA Championship -- he'll be rewarded with his second Ryder Cup appearance next month at Oakland Hills in the Detroit suburbs.
Haas is now 10th on the U.S. team points list; at the end of this week's event, the top 10 earn automatic qualifying berths on the squad.
If he can maintain that spot, or even move up, he would become the oldest American to automatically qualify in the history of the event. On Thursday, he took a giant step toward achieving that goal when he shot a 4-under 68, only three off the lead held by Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke.
Haas insisted afterward he was not scoreboard-watching to check on his closest Cup pursuers because "there's way too much to worry about in my eyes for worrying about my own game than to worry or think about who's coming up behind. I read the papers and see the standings, but I certainly can't control it.
"After the tournament last week, I realized that I got some more points and moved into the top 10. That was wonderful.
"But I felt like all along if I played well, I would make it, and if I didn't play well, I wouldn't make it. It's as simple as that. I certainly can't wish good luck for me or bad luck for anybody else. I just have to take care of what I can do."
Even if Haas falls out of the top 10, there has been much speculation that Hal Sutton will make him one of his two captain's choices on Monday.
Several of Haas's pursuers also pushed into contention in the first round.
Number 14 Scott Verplank, only 29 points behind Haas, shot 67 and No. 15 Chris DiMarco, trailing by 42, posted 68.
Number 11 Jerry Kelly hurt his cause with an opening 76 and No. 12 Stewart Cink had a 73.
Number 13 Jeff Maggert can't move up because he's not playing here, choosing instead to be with his wife, who is expecting twins this week.
Flamboyant Englishman Ian Poulter was making another fashion statement as he toured Whistling Straits in 73 strokes. The man who wore pants in the pattern and color of the Union Jack in the opening round of the British Open sported slacks that had red stripes on one leg and stars on the other, an eye-popping American flag look.
"These pants, like the Union Jack, will go to charity," he said. "If someone wants to pay enough money for them, then yes, it will go toward a good cause. [Other players] smile and laugh, and I think they're expecting something a bit wacky this week."
Greg Norman withdrew from the tournament, citing what was described in a news release as "physical related issues."
Norman, 49, has played in seven events this year and missed the cut in five of them as he focuses most of his efforts on his various business interests and golf course designing. His place in the field was taken by 11th alternate Joe Durant.