Of all the curious Tiger Woods statistics, one of the most startling is that he hasn’t played in a Ryder Cup since 2012.
The possible future milestone moments in his professional life that most of us had given up on are all now back on the table: the 15th major, the record number of PGA Tour victories – he is currently three behind Sam Snead’s 82 Ws – and now an eighth Ryder Cup appearance.
You might argue very easily that Woods is a shoo-in for Paris.
Back in February, Tiger was named as one of USA captain Jim Furyk’s vice-captains – alongside Davis Love III, Woods and Steve Stricker.
Go back to 2016 and, under Love’s leadership, we had Tiger, Stricker, Furyk and Tom Lehman. All of them were part of the Task Force that was put together after the shambles at Gleneagles. The Americans had a plan and, so far, you couldn’t knock it even if the term ‘Task Force’ is horrific.
But now Woods has changed the plan. When he was named as a vice-captain he was 539th in the world, 104th on the points standings and not even on the radar. He had just sprayed his way around all corners of Torrey Pines on only his second official start since August 2015, his driving needed plenty of ‘reps’ and yet he still quite fancied himself to be both a vice and a player.
“My goal is to make the team but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup,” he said. “Why can’t I have both? I like both.”
Furyk will have five assistants in France. He could have waited to see how Woods went this year but he opted against that.
“I want him on board right now,” Furyk said back then.
Woods is now up to 20th in the latest US qualifying list after playing in just 12 ranking events, around half the number of his rivals. The top eight make it automatically before Furyk makes four more very happy.
More importantly, he is now in the world’s top 50 so is eligible to play in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational where there are bundles of points available. Given there are only three tournaments remaining – the Canadian Open, Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship – before the eight spots are tied up it would take a huge effort to thrust his way in via this route. He is nearly 2,000 points behind Webb Simpson who currently occupies the final spot and, as a guide, a win at the PGA would give him approximately 3,700.
Furyk will announce his first three picks after the Dell Technologies on September 3 before the final piece of the jigsaw is revealed after the BMW the week after.
So, if Furyk does need any more nudging, there is still plenty of time.
At the start of this week Furyk played things down, as you would expect.
“I’m going to handle [Tiger] the way I do everyone else. I’ll ask my top eight guys. The way he’s playing, he might be one of them. I’ll ask the vice-captains, collectively, and I think we’ll do the best we can to round out the team. We want the guys playing the best.”
Anyone see any negatives here for Tiger? He has just led The Open on the back nine on Sunday. Those who have already made the team idolise him having grown up watching him blow everyone away for the best part of 20 years – rather than have him impact too much on their own careers. His form for the past five months has been rock-solid – six top 20s in his last 10 starts – with plenty of hints that he is on the verge of winning again.
“We had a lot of guys in pretty good form,” Furyk added. “Flip over to Tiger, you look at him because he’s Tiger, and he’s earned a lot of attention. I loved seeing him play well. I loved seeing him jump to 20th. It’s fun to watch. But we’ll handle him like everyone else.”
Except, of course, that he can’t be treated like anybody else. If you took the top 12 on the American rankings as it stands, where you have eight major winners, you could account for 16 major victories. As we all know Tiger has 14, very nearly 15, on his own. He’s part of the Task Force, he’s already a vice-captain and, for all the talk of his lack of interest in team competitions, he’s said to be the numbers man and keen as mustard from the sidelines of the last Ryder and Presidents Cups.
Furyk has just enjoyed a scouting trip to Le Golf National with a number of hopefuls. It will all be very different in the last week of September but Tony Finau supposedly hit mainly 3-irons.
“It’s a good second-shot golf course,” Furyk said.
Sounds perfect for Tiger.