Tiger Woods must be fit and competitive to make Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup team

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Tiger Woods must be healthy and in fighting form if he hopes to play in his 8th Ryder Cup.

Tiger Woods, on the eve of our nation’s birthday, has a lot of work to do if he hopes to don the red, white, and blue for Tom Watson’s U.S. Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles.

Woods, whose return to the PGA Tour last week after the latest in a series of prolonged, injury-related no-shows was cut short when he missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National, remains on Watson’s radar screen for September’s contest against Europe.

There’s an all-important caveat that the skipper of the 2014 squad has noted early and often since Woods underwent back surgery at the end of March: to earn one of Watson’s three wild-card picks, the former No. 1 must be fit and competitive to take the field in Scotland.

"I'm delighted to see Tiger back," Watson told reporters on Tuesday ahead of this week’s Greenbrier Classic, in which the 64-year-old, eight-time major champion will play. "I hope he's healthy and I hope he's not in pain. As I said, I want him on the Ryder Cup team if he's healthy and playing well."

It was a familiar melody from the choir master but one whose tempo has quickened since Woods’ return to the course fell flat at Congressional. The dissonance of Tiger’s game, especially his failure to hit the right notes around the greens, highlighted that Woods has more than fine-tuning to do if Watson is to tap him for the 12-man troupe.

Where will Woods, ranked 69th in the Ryder Cup standings and well out of the running for the top nine who automatically qualify for a spot on the bench, do his rehearsing? After shooting a 74-75 in his brief return to action, he seemed to dismiss any notion of adding events to his schedule in hopes of tacking on points.

"I'm going to take my kids on a nice little vacation, which will be nice, next week, and start gearing up," Woods said as he bowed out of the National.

If Woods fails to make the FedExCup playoffs -- a real possibility given that the top 125 get to the first stage of eliminations and Tiger, with a paltry 43 points in just four PGA Tour starts this season, is ranked 208th -- odds are he’ll make only three pre-playoff appearances.

Though winners of most tour events chalk up 500 points, two of the three tournaments Woods is likely to enter are majors -- the British Open and the PGA Championship (the WGC-Bridgestone is the other event likely to have a Tiger sighting) -- and offer 600 points to the winners. WGC victors gain 550 points. Majors also count for double points in Ryder Cup rankings.

Woods, before his bad back kicked up, expressed confidence in his chances of grabbing that elusive 15th major on courses on which he has won before -- Hoylake in two weeks for the Open Championship and Valhalla for the PGA. The 38-year-old may now be healthy, meeting one of Watson’s two criteria, but whether Tiger has game enough to make it to Scotland remains very much up in the air, especially if he decides not to add more reps to his calendar.

"He'll be considered less of a pick then if he didn't have a track record going into the Ryder Cup, of course," Watson said about Woods, who owns an unremarkable 13-17-3 record in the biennial matches. "He'd be the first to tell you, 'I haven't been playing.'

"Like I said," Watson observed, "how he's been playing and if he's healthy, those are the two factors that I'll weigh in choosing. That's just common sense in my opinion."

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