The amount of hand-wringing and campaigning we’re seeing lately is making the 2014 Ryder Cup team selection process look more like a presidential campaign, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier over the next three weeks. Nine guaranteed spots on the American roster are locked up after the PGA Championship. With his captain’s picks to be made in about three weeks, Tom Watson may need to do what at one time seemed unthinkable, and that is to leave Tiger Woods off his team.
When Woods made his decision to play at Valhalla, just his fourth tournament since undergoing back surgery that cost him over three months of action and two majors, it was apparent that he was doing so not only to chase his 15th major title, but also to show Watson that he was healthy enough to compete. Unfortunately, he may have done himself more harm than good in that respect.
On Wednesday last week, the former world No. 1 claimed that he was “pain-free”. By the time he missed the cut on Friday following a pair of 74s, he admitted that his back had been bothering him on the range, but that he wanted to play through it as he needs “more reps”. Instead of getting a true look at Woods’ health and progress, now we just have a more clouded scenario.
Now Watson has gone from looking for health and improved play from Woods, to actually saying that he’ll be looking for updates from Woods directly before he makes his final decision. With all due respect to the captain, a legend of the game and the Ryder Cup in his own right, this seems to go counter to his stated process that he’s followed all year.
In March, Watson announced that he was reducing his number of captain’s picks from four to three in order to reward players who played well enough to earn their spot. Phil Mickelson did just that at Valhalla with his runner-up finish. Zach Johnson, ninth in the standings, has a win this year, as well as nine top-25 finishes – two more than Woods has total starts.
Close behind are players like Keegan Bradley, an improving Brandt Snedeker, and even Jason Dufner, should his health allow him to play. Should Woods be selected over any of those guys who have shown that, in 2014, they can play at the highest level?
There’s no question that Woods has proven himself to be one of the best players of all time, but does he really give Team USA their best chance to win at Gleneagles in September? Right now, it doesn’t look like it.