LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In what was an anticlimactic press conference, U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson praised the nine players who made the team after Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship and talked about his job now is to inspire them to play golf at their highest level at Gleneagles next month.
But the 10,000-pound elephant in the room was what to do about Tiger Woods.
Almost half of the questions Monday at Valhalla were about Woods. Watson did his best to deflect any thought that Woods was not still a possible pick, implausible as it might seem to many.
“I’ve said it consistently all the way through the issue with Tiger after his injury,” Watson said in reiterating his stance on Woods. “If he’s healthy and is playing well, I’ll pick him.
Watson went on to say that right now, Woods is not in good health and didn’t know whether that could change during the next three weeks.
“I’ll monitor the situation,” Watson said. “I’ll be talking with him, and as far as his playing ability is concerned, I’ll monitor that, as well.“
Last month at the Open Championship, Watson was concerned if Woods didn’t make the FedEx Cup playoffs then he wouldn’t play competitively for six weeks and he would need to see him play.
Now Watson seems conflicted.
“I can’t answer that right now,” Watson said when asked about Woods not playing competitively for the next three weeks before the picks. “All I can do, as I said, is I’ve got to monitor his situation and during my conversations with him.”
If Woods is as forthcoming to Watson as he is to the media, his answers will be familiar.
Woods at the Open Championship after finishing T-69:
Q: If he assumes that if you didn’t make the FedExCup, I think he still wants to pick you, but he’d like to see you playing going into the Ryder Cup. Would you consider playing other venues outside the U.S. to work on your game?
Woods: Well, I’d like to win the next two tournaments I’m in. That should take care of that.
Woods after missing the cut at the PGA Championship:
Q: When do you plan to play again?
Woods: Hoping as fast as I can. I don’t know. I felt like I wasn’t that far away when I came back at Quicken Loans, but obviously the more I play – you can’t develop strength the same time as you are playing a lot. I need to get back in that gym and get stronger.
Q: What do you tell Tom Watson if he calls you and asks you about the Ryder Cup?
Woods: I don’t know. He hasn’t called.
This is the type of response Watson can rely on when talking to Woods. But even they provide some insight.
Woods believed when he came back he would be able to compete, maybe not at first, but soon and at a high level. That has clearly not materialized with two missed cuts, a WD and T-69 at the Open Championship.
Woods also believes his issues with his health are not physical aliments, but his need to get stronger. So he will retire to the gym to get more work in on his body.
That means no practice and clearly no tournament golf for the conceivable future.
These are just some of the factors that Watson must deal with when thinking about picking Woods.
But maybe the biggest reason he doesn’t pick Woods is the same reason he almost had to pick Woods before: public opinion.
Two months ago, Woods seemed a natural if healthy because he’s Tiger Woods and everyone continues that the Woods of old will somehow materialize at Gleneagles.
Now Watson has all the cover he needs not to pick Woods – he is damaged goods and doesn’t have the game to compete. That was abundantly clear during the last two weeks.
If Watson does pick Woods, it will put the U.S. team and Woods under so much scrutiny the matches could be decided before the U.S. team plane leaves the ground.
It will be an interesting three weeks as we enter Tiger Watch.