News & Opinion

Furyk must recognize Woods’ baggage

Jim Furyk, the captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, has a quandary, although he likely doesn’t see it that way. After Tiger Woods’ stirring performance at the PGA Championship, finishing runner-up to Brooks Koepka in a spirited Sunday finish, it’s a dead lock that Furyk will use one of his four captain’s picks on Woods.

However, in choosing Woods, Furyk will have to look at the last two major championships, and he will face one seminal fact about Woods: He didn’t win.

Comebacks aren’t about good effort. They’re not about coming close. Comebacks are about winning, especially when it comes to the Ryder Cup. Losing a match 1 up is just as bad as losing 6 and 5. It’s still losing.

And Woods hasn’t proved yet that he can win again. Anything.

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Tiger Woods, who restored the roars with a runner-up finish at the recent PGA Championship, likely is a lock to make the Ryder Cup team, but captain Jim Furyk should approach the selection with eyes wide open.

© GOLFFILE/BRIAN SPURLOCK
Tiger Woods, who restored the roars with a runner-up finish at the recent PGA Championship, likely is a lock to make the Ryder Cup team, but captain Jim Furyk should approach the selection with eyes wide open.

Now, he will be dropped into the cauldron of the Ryder Cup about a month from now after not having played in the biggest event in golf since 2012.

It’s popular to cheer for Woods, to applaud his top-10 finishes. After all, a year ago, after a fourth back surgery, no one – including him – thought he’d ever play tournament golf again. Now he’s contending in majors. That’s a long way back, for certain. Anyone would concede that point. He played some brilliant golf at the PGA Championship, eliciting familiar roars at Bellerive Country Club. He was exquisite with his short irons and putted like Tiger of old (“Red alert: Woods is back, even if he’s 2nd,” Aug. 13).

But he hasn’t reached the promised land. He’s still on the edge of the wilderness, on the outside looking in.

Woods was in contention at the British Open and the PGA, and he didn’t close the deal in either. Some say it’s only a matter of time, and it might very well be. But it’s not now, and he still has issues. You might say that Woods has nothing to prove. But is that true?

Furyk needs to know what he’s getting (“Is Woods a Ryder lock? Furyk won’t say,” Aug. 14). Taking Woods to the Ryder Cup isn’t without its potential peril. First is the 8½-hour plane ride from Orlando, Fla., to Paris. What kind of toll would that trip take on Woods’ still-tender back? Remember that he needed ice baths on the weekend of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational – and the Monday after – the same weekend he shot 73-73 on a course where he has won eight times. And his infirmities make it certain that Woods won’t play in more than three matches at the Ryder Cup, probably each day in the four-ball and in the Sunday singles.

The reason that Woods isn’t likely to play in the foursomes is that he is totally unreliable with the driver. He didn’t hit a fairway on the front nine on Sunday at the PGA. Yes, he shot 3 under par, but making birdies from the trees never lasts, even for Woods. And when he needed a good drive at the par-5 17th on Sunday at the PGA, he wiped a big fade into the hazard.

Then, there’s the scar tissue. Woods is 13-17-3 in seven Ryder Cups. He has a winning record in only two of the seven matches. He is 4-8-1 in foursomes and 5-8-0 in four-balls. The problem, it has been said, was finding the right partner for Woods in the team matches. He has been paired with Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia, David Duval, Furyk, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Mark O’Meara, Steve Pate, Chris Riley and Steve Stricker.

It was thought that Stricker would be the right partner for Woods, especially when they won two matches together in 2010. But they went 0-3 in 2012. That was Woods’ last Ryder Cup, which is another matter.

However, Woods is 4-1-2 in singles. But that was a time when a fair number of players were intimidated by the force of nature that once was Tiger Woods.

That’s not the case today. It would be a big surprise if it were known that more than one or two players who will be on the European team would be shaking in their boots at the notion of having to play Woods in a Ryder Cup match. Even after his recent performances.

Woods didn’t make it on points because the rankings are based on two years, and he played only one tournament in 2017. His supporters will point to the fact that he now has five top-6 finishes this year. But let’s look at those.

He tied for fourth at the Quicken Loans National but got there with a final-round 66. He never threatened the lead. He tied for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where he has won eight times. But there was no way he would catch Rory McIlroy.

But here are the problems: He tied for second at the Valspar Championship. He needed a birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with eventual winner Paul Casey. Woods hit his tee shot with an iron – not his driver – and left too long of a second shot for a reasonable chance at birdie.

He held the lead on the back nine of the British Open at Carnoustie and immediately made a double bogey followed with a bogey to shoot himself out of contention.

Woods is an assistant captain with the provision that if he makes the team or is picked, he also would play. It might be that Mickelson replaces Woods as assistant captain, because there’s only an outside chance that Mickelson will get a captain’s pick.

While Woods would be a popular captain’s pick and assure huge TV ratings, on the ground, Furyk will have to go into this Ryder Cup with his eyes open. Wide open.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf