News & Opinion

Mickelson, Woods win another Ryder shot

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – The old band is getting back together. It’s official.

Tiger and Phil. Phil and Tiger.

Ah, the good old days.

Jim Furyk had to feel less like the U.S. Ryder Cup captain and more like Captain Obvious when he announced three of his four wild-card choices to add to the American side Tuesday afternoon. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson joined Bryson DeChambeau, who missed qualifying for the team on points by one spot and since has won the past two big-deal FedEx Cup events.

This was the easiest call since Richard Nixon over George McGovern.

“The three guys here on stage made it a little easier for me than for most captains,” Furyk acknowledged at a televised news conference. “Tiger and Phil had a great body of work, and Bryson put an exclamation point on things. It wasn’t an easy decision. It just wasn’t that difficult.”

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods
Phil Mickelson (left) and Tiger Woods, who were among three at-large picks by U.S. captain Jim Furyk for the Ryder Cup, aren’t the same players who have racked up losses in past matches.

© GOLFFILE/KEN MURRAY
Phil Mickelson (left) and Tiger Woods, who were among three at-large picks by U.S. captain Jim Furyk for the Ryder Cup, aren’t the same players who have racked up losses in past matches.

Yeah, right. Furyk could’ve phoned this one in from a hammock in the shade in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where he lives. There was absolutely no surprise factor in picking these three. They were choices that were made for him. They were teed up on a silver platter and all but served with cupcakes and tea. Although it would have been funny if Furyk had picked Woods, DeChambeau and whoever else he’s going to add Monday (presumably Tony Finau or Xander Schauffele – Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar were named as additional vice captains along with David Duval, so Johnson and Kuchar are out of the running) and let Mickelson twist in the wind for another week as a kind of practical joke on Mickelson, the locker room’s leading needle-sticker.

On the other hand, no one would have been fooled. Woods and Mickelson have been locked and loaded for this team since mid-July. However, I was ready to count out Mickelson after his hitting-a-moving-putt-tantrum during the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and a feeble attempt to spin it as a strategy play (“Mickelson, USGA disgrace U.S. Open,” June 17). It looked to me like quitting, and once a quitter, always a quitter. Maybe my take was too harsh then. Maybe Mickelson really did just do something really, really stupid at 48. I’ll give him that and move on.

The nostalgia of this Woods-Mickelson reunion doesn’t remind me of when the Beatles got together for the last time and performed unannounced on a Savile Row rooftop in London. The last time this band got together for a Ryder Cup as players was in 2012. The U.S. scored a come-from-ahead loss at Medinah.

Before that, they teed it up in 2010 in Wales. The U.S. lost that one, too.

They were teammates in 2006, 2004 (when they infamously went 0-2 as partners) and 2002. The U.S. lost, lost and lost, respectively.

But they were winners in 1999. So, they’ll always have Brookline.

I don’t know whether that matters. That was then, and this is now. The U.S. has won two Ryder Cups in the 21st century (but still hasn’t won one overseas in 25 years) and, incidentally, Woods wasn’t a playing member of either team.

I’m not sure that matters, either. Nor does the fact that Mickelson’s Ryder Cup teams had a 3-8 record while Woods’ were 1-6. Those losses weren’t necessarily on those two. You want to know the real secret of the Europeans’ Ryder Cup dominance dating to 1985? They don’t have any tricks, other than being unified by their desire to defeat the rich Americans. If you look back objectively (and not like a rah-rah American fan), the Europeans usually have fielded a stronger team with better players since 1985. It’s that simple.

There’s one little thing the Euros do that I like. They don’t pay any attention to their individual Ryder Cup match records. They just count how many winning Ryder Cup sides on which they played. Each team victory counts as a major for them. The win-as-a-team, lose-as-a-team concept is a lot easier to buy into when you mostly win, the way Europe has.

Woods and Mickelson aren’t the same players now that they were back in the ’90s. It is fairly stunning that two players who made the team in 1997 also made the team in 2018. Their remarkable longevity has been as impressive as their remarkable careers.

Woods is on the team because he finished sixth and second in the past two major championships. He had the lead going to the final nine holes of the British Open at Carnoustie, and at the PGA Championship at Bellerive, he made a strong run with a closing 64 but couldn’t catch Brooks Koepka.

Mickelson is on the team because he won a WGC event early in the year and he’s having one of his best putting seasons in ages. He ranks second in strokes-gained putting and third in birdies per round. The Ryder Cup is a putting contest and a birdie contest. So, he fits the mold.

There is one other thing to consider about Mickelson and Woods as wild-card picks. This isn’t like being voted into the starting lineup at baseball’s All-Star Game. Mickelson and Woods are added to the original eight players who earned their way onto the team. The captain doesn’t have to play them in every session and, in fact, almost certainly won’t. How much they play will be determined by the pairings Furyk likes, plus who’s playing well that week in France and, more importantly, who isn’t. Each 12-man team usually has two guys that week who are off their games.

Furyk was asked about how often the old band might get together again. He smiled and conceded that the days of playing five matches probably are over.

“But playing four is possible,” he said.

Mickelson and Woods, sitting a few seats away from Furyk, also grinned. Together.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle