Keeping Score

Woods, DeChambeau look like sure things

A few idle musings while we prepare our fiery locker-room speech to mark halftime of the FedEx Cup playoffs. No early Gatorade showers, please:

• We all can celebrate Tiger Woods being back, being healthy, and playing a full schedule in 2017-18. Nobody was about to predict that in January, especially after he played only three official rounds in all of 2017. He has used the term “blessed” to describe his season, and golf fans have enjoyed his comeback. Nonetheless, when Woods dunked a tee shot at the short par-3 16th at TPC Boston on Monday in the final round at the Dell Technologies Championship (scores), leading to double bogey (only three players before him had found water off that tee), once again it pointed to a troubling struggle to finish off tournaments. It marked four times in his last eight final rounds that Woods made at least one double on his incoming nine. Dating to the Wells Fargo in May, he also has been over par on his final nine holes in six of his past nine tournaments. Quicken Loans (1 under) and the PGA (3 under) are the only two final nines among his last nine starts in which he broke par. That’s not the closer we used to know.

• U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk will make three of his captain’s selections at 5 p.m. today in Philadelphia. (He has until after this week’s BMW Championship to name a fourth player and complete the 12-man team.) Furyk has talked about considerations with the golf course (Le Golf National), which isn’t exactly a bomber’s paradise, but right now, with Phil Mickelson showing a pulse on Monday at TPC Boston (a closing 63), you’d have to have your hazy crystal ball checked if it isn’t showing Woods, DeChambeau, Mickelson and Tony Finau, who had another strong week (T-4). Finau appears to be one hot putting week away from a big victory here soon.

• What wins Ryder Cups? Putting, right? Well, of the eight U.S. qualifiers (Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson), only two (Simpson, at No. 6, and Johnson, at 13) rank inside the top 40 in strokes gained putting. That’s certainly something that should help Phil Mickelson to keep an incredible streak alive of playing on 25 consecutive U.S. Ryder/Presidents Cup teams. Heading into the Dell, only one player on the PGA Tour (Jason Day) ranked ahead of him in putting. Mickelson also entered the week tied for fourth in birdie average.

• Another thought on Woods: Lest we not seek a silver lining or two, should Woods qualify for the Tour Championship at East Lake – he departed TPC Boston where he started, at No. 25 in the FedEx Cup rankings – Woods is on track to make 18 starts and play 68 rounds of golf. There’s no cut at this week’s BMW or the Tour Championship, so Woods will finish with only two missed cuts this season. Pretty strong. Don’t let the highs and lows with the putter during the past few weeks cast a shadow on the bigger picture. At this point, given what happened in 2017, which led him to his fourth back surgery and doubts that he might not even compete again, every round is a bonus. His 18 official PGA Tour starts (knock on wood) would be the most Woods has made since 2012 (19), and one fewer than he had in the past three seasons combined.

• Speaking of coming a long, long way in a short time, we give you the hottest player in golf, back-to-back winner Bryson DeChambeau. He won the John Deere in 2017, but there wasn’t much else positive from his rookie campaign. He made 31 starts, and missed the cut in more than half of them (16 MCs, one WD). At Albany in the Bahamas in December, DeChambeau was walking along in the gallery watching Tiger Woods. He was confident that he had learned a great deal through his rough patches last season, and was ready to start anew in Hawaii. All he has done is win three big tournaments this summer, including the first two playoff stops, and cement his spot on the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team. He’ll go from being in Woods’ gallery to probably playing alongside Woods in Paris. That's a big jump.

• Matt Kuchar, a Georgia Tech product who is very popular in Atlanta, had been to eight consecutive Tour Championships and made eight consecutive U.S. national teams, but one, if not both, streaks are about to end. He needed a solid round on Monday at Dell to get inside the top 70 in order to make it to the BMW, but struggled to 74 and finished outside the bubble. He had placed T-4 and T-5, respectively, in the past two years in that tournament, but now will miss it for the first time since 2008. At 40, he’ll not play in the Tour Championship for the first time since 2009. It was just an off-year for Kuchar, a top-10 machine (only four this year) who ranks 13th on Tour in all-time earnings ($43.7 million).

• Speaking of Kuchar, should he not get picked for the Ryder Cup team, it could leave a significant void in the U.S. team's ping-pong rankings. There may be a rookie to step in: DeChambeau. He and a couple of his college buddies at SMU actually bought a robot – no kidding, he says – that would shoot out ping-pong balls at different velocities and spin rates, and they’d use the robot for practice sessions for a couple of years during every lunch period. “I got pretty good, needless to say,” he said.

• European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn will fill out his 12-man side by making four picks on Wednesday. His eight qualifiers via two lists, one using points from European events and another using a world points list: Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Alex Noren and Thorbjorn Olesen. (All but Molinari, Rose and McIlroy are Ryder Cup rookies.) In the mix for wild-card picks is a group that includes Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera Bello, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Russell Knox and Matt Wallace, who won on Sunday. Bjorn seems to have a more difficult job than Furyk at this point. Poulter should be rock solid. His record in five Ryder Cups is 12-4-2. A few years back, Englishman Lee Westwood, a future captain, suggested Europe simply go to a system of “11 qualifiers and Poults.”

• If you work on a national holiday, especially one that carries the title of “Labor” Day, should you not be entitled to triple wages? Asking for a friend … enjoy your Tuesday.

Jeff Babineau is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America who has covered golf since 1994, writing for such publications as The Orlando Sentinel, Golfweek and Golf World. Email: Twitter: @jeffbabz62

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