By Mark Lamport-Stokes
KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina (Reuters) - United States captain Davis Love III is excited by the strength of his likely Ryder Cup team, though he is surprised Hunter Mahan is not among the top eight contenders despite winning twice this season.
Mahan landed the biggest title of his career at the elite WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February, then clinched the fifth PGA Tour victory of his career at the Houston Open two months later.
"How could that even happen? When I go back and look at the points, I guess he (Mahan) probably had a couple of weeks where he might have missed a couple of cuts," Love told reporters on Wednesday.
"You win two golf tournaments, you think he would be in, especially big ones like he won. It shows you our guys are playing very, very well."
Mahan dropped out of the top eight in the U.S. Cup standings on Sunday when Keegan Bradley, last year's PGA Championship winner, triumphed by one shot over Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
The leading eight players will automatically qualify for the U.S. team to take on Europe after Sunday's final round of the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Love will then round out his 12-man lineup with four wildcard picks.
As of this week, the leading eight players in the standings were Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner, Masters champion Bubba Watson, Bradley, U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson.
The next five were Mahan, Stricker, Furyk, Rickie Fowler and Brandt Snedeker.
"We are very excited about it," Love said while preparing for Thursday's opening round at Kiawah Island. "It was a great win for Keegan last week, a great putt on the last hole, and obviously Jim is playing very well week in and week out now.
"There's not a whole lot of movement (in the standings), but we have a whole lot of guys playing very, very well top to bottom. Our team is shaping up very well."
Love will announce his four wildcard picks on September 4 but he is well aware that a potential team member could make a huge move up the standings with victory this week in the final major of the year.
"Anything can happen this week," said Love, a veteran of six Ryder Cups as a player. "I'm trying not to stress about eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 right now because, as we saw last week, Keegan went from nine to four.
"It just shows you that we are strong and all of the guys at the top are taking turns playing well."
Asked who he was especially consulting about potential captain's picks, 1997 PGA Championship winner Love replied: "I've got (assistant captains) Freddie Couples and Mike Hulbert already.
"And obviously some of our veteran guys that have played a lot of teams that I've been on with, like Tiger and Phil and Jim and Steve and right on down the list.
"There are three tournaments after this week," Love said, referring to the time scale before his wildcard selections are announced. "So there's a lot of golf to be watched."
The U.S. will take on Ryder Cup holders Europe in the 39th edition of the biennial competition from September 28-30 at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Simon Evans)