He’s back, or he’s not back. Or it’s all about his back. The golf world wonders and waits once again on Tiger Woods.
Hours after the sport had its finest day of the year, the American Ryder Cup captain, Tom Watson, held a news conference to talk about the nine players who officially qualified for his team in the wake of a breathtaking P.G.A. Championship. Guess who was the major topic of conversation?
No, not Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson or Rickie Fowler. Don’t be silly.
Here’s a hint: He finished 71st in the 2014 Ryder Cup standings and missed the cut at the P.G.A. Perhaps it felt as if we had seen the last of Woods this year when he left the golf course on Friday, limping, forlorn and his game in shambles. Woods indeed knew he would not be playing — or was not eligible for — the remaining PGA Tour events this season. But Watson made it plain that he still had Tiger on his mind in a significant way.
“He is Tiger Woods, and he brings a lot to the team,” Watson said of Woods’s Ryder Cup chances. “If he has the ability to play and he’s healthy, he brings a lot to the team. I’d be a fool not to consider him.”
It is roughly six weeks until the Ryder Cup in Scotland, and on Sept. 2, Watson must name his three remaining at-large picks for the team. What transpires next is a 21-day boot camp in which Woods tries to prove himself fit and skilled enough for golf’s most demanding and pressure-filled competition. And since nothing about Woods’s career has been routine for the past five years, his audition for a Ryder Cup spot will not be on the golf course. Watson will essentially take Woods’s word about the condition of his balky back and his erratic golf game.
“I can’t assess his medical condition, and I honestly can’t assess how he’s playing,” Watson said. “It really is going to be having to come from information from Tiger himself. But again, I don’t make this comment loosely. He is Tiger Woods.”
O.K., this might all sound a little nutty. Have Watson and Woods signed a reality television show contract? “Tom and Tiger: Destination Scotland.”
But know this. Watson is a serious-minded, wise, golf-hardened man. He is not bending over backward for Woods out of personal empathy or benevolence, because the two have never been close.
At the same time, Watson is staring across the Atlantic Ocean at one of the most fearsome European Ryder Cup teams ever. The Europeans have Rory McIlroy, who is far and away the best player on continued…