At the Greenbrier this week, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson made it clear that Tiger Woods is still on the top of his list of captain’s picks “if he’s playing well.”
Watson said: “I’m delighted to see Tiger back. 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.”
This jibes with Watson’s earlier comments. In an interview in Golf magazine, he said, “(Tiger) is an automatic pick. You can’t have a player of that caliber not on the team. But that has to be weighed next to what his health is. I hope he can get back in the swing, because he wasn’t playing his best even before the surgery. But if he’s not physically right, Tiger will be the first one to tell me.”
But that is the question: Will Tiger admit that he is not ready? Will he say that he isn’t playing well enough? If he continues to struggle as he did at Congressional, or even if he feels better but is nowhere near the Tiger of old, will he cut himself from Ryder Cup consideration or will he wait for Watson?
Anyone who thinks there isn’t pressure on Watson to put Tiger on the team – be it from the PGA of America, the European Tour, NBC or all of the above – hasn’t paid attention to the naked commercialization of Sam Ryder’s friendly contest in the past two decades. Tiger’s presence is worth millions. And while Watson is not the kind of man to succumb to outside influences, his stated bias in favor of Tiger makes it clear that it won’t take much of a nudge for the captain to offer Woods a spot.
So, it’s up to Tiger to do the right thing. If he’s back to his world-beating ways in a month, then Watson is right: The decision is a no-brainer. But if he’s not easily among the top-12 American players by the PGA Championship, then the burden falls on Tiger to bow out.
There have been plenty of opportunities for Tiger to do the right thing in recent years. Sometimes he has. Often he has not. Consider this to be another test, not of his health or his golf but of his character.