HONOLULU – Depending on the future of Tiger Woods, one of his streaks is on the line this year.
Dating to 1999, Woods has led the points table for every Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team. Even when he played only six times in 2008 because of knee surgery and missed his first cup competition, he still had twice as many points as any other American.
Woods is out of action indefinitely as he copes with the fallout of his infidelity. Speculation on when he might return has ranged from the Florida swing to the Masters to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach to 2011.
Where does that leave the Ryder Cup?
“There isn’t much to think about right now,” U.S. captain Corey Pavin said this week at the Sony Open. “It’s a matter of when and if he comes back. As a captain, I’ll just watch what he does.”
Woods finished last year at No. 3 in the standings, which was meaningless. Under a new system installed by past captain Paul Azinger, the current year is all that matters. The only points last year were awarded at majors. In a Ryder Cup year, one point is awarded for every dollar earned on the PGA Tour, with double points at the majors.
The movement is so volatile that Woods could be out of the top eight who automatically qualify by the Florida swing. If he doesn’t play, he doesn’t earn points.
Then again, Pavin is allowed four captain’s picks. Does he leave out the world’s No. 1 player?
“A lot of it depends on his level of play,” Pavin said. “I’m going to treat Tiger like any other player. If he’s playing poorly, or he’s not playing at all or comes back late, I’d have to think about it.”
The Ryder Cup will be Oct. 1-3 in Wales, still an entire season away. Qualifying ends Aug. 15 after the PGA Championship, and Pavin doesn’t have to announce his four picks until Sept. 7 after the second FedEx Cup playoff event. Woods hasn’t even started his “indefinite break” because he usually doesn’t start his season until San Diego, anyway.
The Ryder Cup is a long way off.
Even so, it’s worth raising the possibility of another Ryder Cup without Woods because that’s when he faces some of his greatest scrutiny, on and off the course. And he has never given the British tabloids so much material, not to mention thousands of fans, some of whom felt slighted in years past when he played practice rounds early and was off the course before they walked through the gates.
His reception will be unlike that at any other Ryder Cup.
“I would be shocked if that didn’t happen,” Paul Goydos said. “There’s definitely going to be people who are going to use this situation to take advantage. … He is going to be heckled, without question.”
If that’s the case, it probably won’t be only at the Ryder Cup. When he does return to golf, Woods will have to cope with fans’ reaction whether he’s at Pebble Beach or St. Andrews, Muirfield Village or the TPC Boston.
Woods, however, has never been terribly excited about the Ryder Cup. He loves the matches and the camaraderie in the team room, just not the bells and whistles that make it the longest, most draining week in golf.
He showed his lack of affinity with the Ryder Cup while playing in Ireland in 2002, one week before the matches. Woods took that occasion to change the brand of his irons to Nike. Asked why he didn’t wait until after the season, Woods said, “Off the record? Because the majors are over.” Then he was asked for a comment on the record. “Because the majors are over,” he said with a laugh.
There is some precedence with Woods not playing the Ryder Cup.
He missed the last one because of season-ending knee surgery in June, and while no American thought the team was better off without a player of his caliber, there was a sense that it was a team of 12 for the first time, instead of a team of 11 and one global icon. That wasn’t Woods’ fault, it’s just that no other player commands so much attention.
So if he doesn’t make it to Wales, it’s not as if the U.S. team hasn’t been down this road before.
“He’s the best player, so we need him on the team,” British Open champion Stewart Cink said. “We played well without him, but I think the two are not related. It definitely will help our trepidation about going in there without Tiger Woods on the team.”
Cink didn’t want to look that far ahead, nor did he want to contemplate another Ryder Cup without Woods.
“I like to have him on the team,” he said. “I like to have him hanging around. I think he’s fun.”