The Tiger Woods Ryder Cup dilemma

Should Tiger Woods be on the Ryder Cup team if he doesn't qualify automatically? There are no easy answers. Photo copyright USGA/John Mummert.

There’s always a fair dose of Ryder Cup intrigue at the PGA Championship, but this time there is more than usual. The reason, of course, is Tiger Woods.

Question No. 1: Will Woods play his way onto the team this week? Currently 10th in the standings, he needs to move up to the top eight in this final week of qualifying to automatically qualify for the U.S. team. He’s 244 points behind eighth-place Lucas Glover, and with each point corresponding to $500 in earnings he needs to earn at least $122,000 more than Glover to pass him. If Glover has a good week, Woods could pick off the next guy on the list, Matt Kuchar if he beats him by more than $127,500. Of course, there’s always the possibility of getting passed by somebody further back in the standings, too, so beating Glover or Kuchar doesn’t insure a spot.

Question No. 2: Can he recover from last week? If he plays like he did at the WGC-Bridgestone in Akron, where he finished next-to-last, he’s got no chance to climb into the top eight and make the Ryder Cup team automotically. It’s one thing to come back from a missed cut, but he was so deep in uncharted territory last week it will be hard to make it back to civilization.

Question No. 3: If Tiger doesn’t make it on points, does he want to play in the Ryder Cup? Unlike last week, Woods answered this with a definitive “yes” in his press conference at Whistling Straits. The difference: It was the “old” Tiger mindset last week when he only wanted to talk about making the team on points rather than the negative thought that he might have to be a pick. Now he’s well aware that he might not make it on his own.

Question No. 4: If Tiger doesn’t make it on points, will captain Corey Pavin pick him? I didn’t think he would give a definitive answer this week, but the Golf Channel’s Jim Gray said Pavin told him on Tuesday that he would pick Woods. On Wednesday, Pavin said that Gray misquoted him.

Question No. 5; If Tiger doesn’t make it on points, should captain Corey Pavin pick him? There’s no good answer to this one. Arguments for: Woods has been the best player in the game for most of the last 14 years and owns 14 major championships. You’d be crazy not to pick him whatever his current form. And he did finish fourth in two majors this year, with a cumulative scoring total in the majors second among Americans to only Phil Mickelson. Arguments against: Sure, Woods was the best player in the world last year, but he’s not one of the 12 best Americans this year (119th in the FedExCup standings), and at the moment his game is getting worse instead of better. Also, he doesn’t have a particularly good Ryder Cup record and the U.S. won without him in 2008. If Woods finishes well down the list or misses the cut this week and doesn’t play well in the Barclays (the first playoff event—which he’s not a lock to qualify for if he misses the PGA Championship cut), the arguments for not picking him become stronger, which is why I think Pavin didn’t really tell Gray that Woods was a definite pick.

Question No. 6: If Tiger doesn’t make it on points, should he want to play in the Ryder Cup? Some would say that this is a lost year for Woods, and he should just put the clubs away for a while and regroup for next year. I’m not sure a break is what he needs, though. He already missed half of 2008 and the start of 2009 with a knee injury and then the first three months of 2010 due to his self-inflicted off-course problems. Maybe one of his problems is that he’s been away from the game so much that he hasn’t been able to maintain his form. If he shows signs of life at the PGA and Barclays—and the Deutsche Bank, if he qualifies—he should want to play the Ryder Cup and Pavin should pick him. But if his game is lackluster at the PGA and Barclays, I think he should sit out the Ryder Cup, because he would then miss the final three weeks of the playoffs and there’s no assurance he could wave a magic wand and get his game back in Wales. In that case, he could take some pressure off of Pavin by taking his name out of consideration, which is essentially what Sergio Garcia has just done for his captain.

The other intriguing Ryder Cup development of the past week was Garcia’s announcement that he is taking a couple of months off after the PGA Championship, skipping the FedExCup (or the final qualifying event for the European Ryder Cup team in two weeks, should he have chosen to go in that direction).

That eases the pressure on European captain Colin Montgomerie. If you grant that Garcia should have been considered for a captain’s selection because of his inspirational and outstanding play in past Ryder Cups (except for 2008) no matter what his current form, that might have left Monty with too many players to choose from for his three captain’s picks.

With Garcia essentially taking himself out of the picture, Montgomerie is currently left with exactly three players outside the automatic qualification spots who should definitely make the team—Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, and Justin Rose.

Of course, there are still three weeks left before the European team is set. If Luke Donald gets knocked out by someone other than the aforementioned trio, Montgomerie could be left with a tough choice after all. But at the moment there appears to be a good chance the best player to miss the team would be Henrik Stenson, an off-and-on member of the world’s elite who is having a poor 2010 except for contending at the British Open—which he followed up by finishing dead last at the WGC-Bridgestone last week, one spot behind Woods (though apparently he was ill).

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