TIGER Woods’ hopes of playing in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles look increasingly fragile. Not only is he running out of time to earn a place in Tom Watson’s team for the biennial match at Gleneagles, there is no guarantee that the US captain will give him a wild card.
If the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool was an opportunity for Woods to prove himself, he should consider it wasted. An error-strewn 75 in yesterday’s final round meant that the American, who is recovering from back surgery, finished six over par in his first major of the year.
So much for the talk, after his first-round 75, of a miracle to rank alongside his one-legged US Open victory in 2008. So much for the claim that he was growing stronger and more explosive every day. The last three rounds were one long struggle for Woods, whose driver again let him down.
That Watson, age 64, carded a final-round 68 to finish one over for the tournament only made matters worse. When the unfortunate juxtaposition of those scores was put to the American captain last night, he squirmed uncomfortably. “It’s just one day,” he insisted. “It’s a snapshot. It’s not a big deal.”
Maybe, but the problem is this: Watson needs Woods to be playing well in the lead-up to Gleneagles, but if he does not qualify for the season-ending FedEx Cup in America, he will not be playing at all. Before last night’s result had been factored in, the world No 7 was 212th in the standings. Only the top 120 qualify.
If he is to reach the lucrative four-event series, Woods will have to finish at least third in the two events he is scheduled to play in before then, namely the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship. Watson will pick him if he is fit and in form, but only if he is going to be active in the weeks before Gleneagles. “If he’s playing well and in good health, I’ll pick him, but the caveat to that is, if he doesn’t make the FedEx Cup, what do I do then?” he asked, raising his arms in a gesture of exasperation.
Watson had been hoping that his biggest and most intimidating player would show some form at The Open, but it has not materialised. By the player’s own admission, he made “way too many” mistakes, including four bogeys and a double-bogey yesterday. “Looks like he’s playing without pain, but, again, he’s not in the mix,” said Watson. “He needed to get in the mix to get some points to get some money and get in the FedEx Cup. That’s what I was hoping he was doing this week.”
Watson will announce his picks on 2 September, after the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of the two FedEx Cup events. If Woods, and indeed Phil Mickelson, have not played their way into the side by then, they would be wise not to expect any favours.
“If Phil and Tiger don’t make it in the mix there, I’ve got some real thinking to do,” said Watson. “Everybody is thinking that I’m going to pick them automatically. I can assure you that I’m not going to pick them automatically. I said about Tiger that I’ll pick him if he’s playing well and he’s in good health. Phil is the same way. If he’s playing well how can you not pick those two?”
Watson and Woods were supposed to have a chat about it at Hoylake, but a brief “hello” was as much as they managed. The captain now claims that it is too soon, with too many variables, for them to have a meaningful discussion. Neither does he wish to speculate on what his choice would be were the wild cards to be announced now.
Woods, on the other hand, is more forthcoming. Asked last night whether his current form justified selection, he replied: “I would say yes, but that’s my position, my take on it. He’s the captain. Obviously, it’s his decision. He’s going to field the best 12 players that he thinks will win the cup back. And I hope I’m on that team.
“I got picked by Corey [Pavin] when we played in Wales. I was coming off an injury as well there with my Achilles, and I sat out for most of the summer. I felt like I was able to contribute to the team. And that’s all you want as a pick. You want someone who can contribute to the team, whether it’s in support or it’s in play.”
Reading between the lines, Woods believes that he should be picked, irrespective of form. He thinks that his presence, his influence in the locker room, his ability to psyche out opponents, will be invaluable to the Americans, even if he is struggling to get the ball in the hole.
If he does not improve immeasurably at the WGC and the PGA, the only other option for Woods will be to play abroad in the weeks ahead, but don’t hold your breath. Rank-and-file tournaments on the European Tour are unlikely to float his boat, Ryder Cup or no Ryder Cup.
Watson suggested that, while it was “not mandatory”, it would be helpful if Woods found competitions to play in, overseas if necessary. Asked to comment on that proposal, the player came up with another solution to the problem.
“Well, I’d like to win the next two tournaments I’m in,” he said. “That should take care of that.”