Ryder Cup may be ‘no-win situation’ for Woods

Tiger Woods during a practice round for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.


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SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – For all the scrutiny that frames Tiger Woods’ life when he arrives at a tournament – about his family situation, about his scratchy golf game, about his possible association with a new swing coach, about his mental state – it’s when the topic becomes the Ryder Cup that things get a bit silly.

The words “Tiger Woods” and “Ryder Cup,” for reasons that have always been confounding, simply can’t be used in the same sentence without some sort of smirk or cynicism. This year – given the bizarre set of circumstances that has been at the center of Woods’ universe since Thanksgiving – the silliness has taken on a slightly different complexion; critics aren’t just questioning his commitment to the competition, but whether he even belongs on the team.

It’s hard to say what about 14 major championships and more than 10 years of being the world’s most dominant player requires Woods to prove he’s worthy, but put that aside. What’s with this stuff about Corey Pavin needing to have a meeting to measure Woods’ interest? Whether Woods is insulted by that or not is hard to say, but the guess is, he should be.

To understand why, go back to last fall, when Greg Norman was rounding out his Presidents Cup team. To the surprise of some, Norman chose Adam Scott, even though the Aussie was struggling with his game. The general feeling was, Norman asked Scott if he wanted to be on the team, got the answer he wanted, and that was that.

Scott shook his head. Didn’t happen that way. And guess what? Had he been approached in such a manner – “If I were asked, ‘Do I want to be part of the team?’ ” – Scott said he would have said no.

Why? Because Scott would have taken the question to mean there was doubt in the captain’s mind, that perhaps Norman wasn’t sure himself.

“I didn’t want a favor from Greg; I wanted to be on the team because he thought I was going to be the best player for the team,” Scott said.

Woods was asked at the Bridgestone Invitational about the Ryder Cup scenarios and a possible meeting with Pavin at the PGA Championship to gauge his interest. When Woods said, “I’m planning on playing my way onto the team,” some observers thought that left things open for interpretation, that it really didn’t address his commitment for the event.

That’s curious from this vantage point, because saying “I’m planning on playing my way onto the team” is interpreted here as he’d like to be involved. Can’t remember the last time someone played his way onto a team and then took a pass.

Anyway, Woods was asked at his PGA Championship press conference if he’d accept being a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup. “Yes,” he said.

Interpret that answer any way you like, but it sure sounds positive from this seat.

Now, are there scenarios in which things will change? Most definitely. As Woods struggled mightily for four days at the Bridgestone Invitational, the thought occurred that if he brought that sort of game to Whistling Straits and missed the cut at the PGA Championship, he might just shut it down for a good stretch. He could explain the Ryder Cup dilemma thusly – that he was no help to the team playing this way, that far more deserving names were available, that he respected his teammates way too much to be a hindrance.

“Let’s face it: He’s in a no-win position when it comes to the Ryder Cup,” said one of Woods’ friends on Tour. “If he goes and plays poorly and the team loses, it’s because he doesn’t care. If he skips it and they lose, he’s not a team player. If he skips it and they win, like what happened in 2008, people will say the team is better without him.”

That last argument always has been lost on guys who respect Woods the most, guys whose job it has been for years to go head-to-head with him.

“A no-brainer,” Jim Furyk said. “I want to see him on the team and I want to see him playing well.”

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Tiger Woods said Tuesday that he would be interested in playing on the U.S. Ryder Cup team as a captain's pick.

Stewart Cink said similarly, shaking his head when it was suggested that the buzz this week would be whether Woods should be on the Ryder Cup team. “He’s still Tiger Woods,” Cink said, brushing aside the choppy play at Firestone CC.

Chubby Chandler, who manages so many international players who’ve been the rage of late – Louis Oosthuizen, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood among them – has said he has no doubt Woods will be in Wales. “He cannot afford any more negative publicity,” Chandler said.

Don’t overlook that part of the equation, and don’t forget that players whom Woods respects greatly and who have stood by him through all of this – Furyk and Steve Stricker, most notably – already are booked for Wales. It was only 10 months ago, remember, that Woods went 5-0 in a Presidents Cup romp over the International Team, and that it was achieved in great part to an uncanny chemistry with Stricker, the two of them undefeated in four team matches.

OK, so Woods puts more passion into winning Masters and U.S. Opens and Claret Jugs and PGA Championships than these international team things. Guess what? That means he’s cut from a mold similar to those that produced Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.

His record proves he doesn’t care about the Ryder Cup? That record is 10-13-2, but put that aside for a minute. Phil Mickelson’s Ryder Cup record is 10-14-6. Does that mean he doesn’t care? Paul Azinger went 5-7-3, and isn’t he Mr. Ryder Cup? Freddie Couples was 7-9-4, and he is always given credit for having buckets of Ryder Cup passion. Curtis Strange went 6-12-3. Next time you see him, suggest that that proves he didn’t care about the Ryder Cup. Oh, and Padraig Harrington? He’s 7-11-3. Anyone in Europe advancing the theory that Harrington doesn’t care?

Then again, Woods never has been judged in terms consistent with his colleagues.

“He’ll be fine,” Scott said. “I don’t know what the big deal is.” Then the Aussie laughed at his own comment and added, “I get what the big deal is.”

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