Tiger Woods a doubt for Gleneagles

WILL Tiger Woods be at Gleneagles for the Ryder Cup next month or won’t he?
Playing to the gallery: Rory McIlroy tees off for yesterdays third round. The Open champion had taken the lead on Friday. Photograph: Jeff Gross/GettyPlaying to the gallery: Rory McIlroy tees off for yesterdays third round. The Open champion had taken the lead on Friday. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty
Playing to the gallery: Rory McIlroy tees off for yesterdays third round. The Open champion had taken the lead on Friday. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty

It’s a burning question as the 38-year-old toils with both form and fitness and, according to Paul Azinger and Colin Montgomerie, two former captains in the biennial bout, the answer looks as though it will be “no”.

Azinger, who led the Americans to their only victory in the event in the last six matches – it came here at Valhalla in 2008, when he received a helping hand from Europe’s “Captain Calamity” Nick Faldo – believes the matter should not really be up for debate.

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“I don’t see how you can take an injured player who is not playing well,” said the 1993 US PGA champion as he returned to the venue where he masterminded a victory over the Europeans with a team that didn’t include Woods, who was recovering from leg surgery at the time.

“I don’t think I would,” he added. “Also, Tiger has not necessarily been the formula for success, either [Woods has been on just 
one winning team in seven appearances in the Ryder Cup]. I just don’t see how you can pick him at this point. I am guessing he will call Tom and beg out of this and say ‘I am not ready’, make Tom’s decision easier.”

The nine automatic positions on the American team will be finalised after the conclusion of the US PGA Championship in Kentucky, where Woods missed the cut for just the fourth time in 66 major championships as a professional and suffered more of the back problems which have turned the 2014 campaign into the worst of his career.

“He’s injured again,” said Montgomerie, the winning 2010 European captain at Celtic Manor in Wales as he offered his opinion on where Woods now stands in relation to having any chance of being in the American ranks in Perthshire from 26-28 September.

“He’s obviously not ready to play yet but he’s made an effort (by playing in the season’s final major a few days after pulling out of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in the last round due to back spasms) and tried to prove to Tom Watson and his team-mates that he will be ready for the Ryder Cup. It was a no-lose situation. He had to come.

“Can you pick someone that is a fitness doubt? You’ve got to pick someone who can play five rounds – whether they are going to or not. Can he play five rounds? The answer right now is ‘no’. But the Ryder Cup isn’t tomorrow, it’s in six weeks’ time and you never know. It’s not my choice, thank God.”

Woods missed the cut in Louisville by five shots after a brace of 74s to fail with his last throw of the dice to get into the FedEx Cup Play-Offs. He is not playing in this week’s Wyndham Championship, leaving Watson with a real dilemma when it comes to handing out his three wild cards on 2 September.

“What’s wrong with playing in the Italian Open or the Czech Open?” asked Montgomerie, referring to the two European Tour events prior to that date. “He needs to play. He was six behind me here [at halfway]. I just thought I’d drop that in!”

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Woods, of course, is not the only player giving the American captain some sleepless nights. World No 6 Matt Kuchar, who has already secured his place on the team, pulled out before the start of the US PGA due to back spasms, while Jason Dufner, the defending champion, lasted just ten holes before being forced to withdraw with a neck injury. Dufner started the week eighth in the Ryder Cup standings but dropped to ninth after Zach Johnson made the cut at Valhalla and said he was not sure when he would be able to play again.

On top of all that, Dustin Johnson, who was the only American player unbeaten at Medinah in 2012, was fifth in the standings before declaring himself unavailable as he takes a leave of absence to deal with “personal challenges”. It points to Europe heading into the match as heavy favourites. “There’s still six weeks to go but I’d rather be in Paul McGinley’s shoes right now than Tom Watson’s – definitely,” observed Montgomerie.

Qualifying for the European team runs until the end of this month, with the battle for the same number of automatic berths set to get very interesting indeed once the dust settles on this event.

Apart from Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn, Stephen Gallacher and Miguel Angel Jimenez, all the main contenders made it to the weekend, including Graeme McDowell. The man who clinched victory for Montgomerie’s team in Wales, he moved into eighth on the list following last weekend’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and is determined to stay there.

“I want to be in the automatic spots if I possibly can,” said the 2010 US Open champion after signing for a third-round 71 which included a quadruple-bogey 8 at the 13th with its island green. “I will be going out there tomorrow all guns blazing and trying to shoot a low number to finish the week. The Ryder Cup is very, very important to me.”

At the start of this week, McDowell, Welshman Jamie Donaldson and England’s Luke Donald were separated on the list by fewer than three world ranking points, with Gallacher and Ian Poulter close behind the trio. Jimenez was after them, but, having said the US PGA Championship would be his last event before taking a break, the 51-year-old’s dream of becoming Europe’s oldest Ryder Cup player now appears to have died. He still has a strong chance of being involved at Gleneagles, though, with the likelihood now that he will join Sam Torrance and Des Smyth on McGinley’s backroom team.

In missing the cut, Gallacher, after putting in such a sterling effort to play in the inter-continental contest for the first time on home soil, needs a really strong finish as he completes a three-week stint in the US by playing in the Wyndham Championship before returning to European Tour duty in events in the Czech Republic.

McDowell, meanwhile, believes he has run into form at just the right time. “I’m not uncomfortable,” he insisted of his position. “I’m optimistic about the way I’m playing, I’m optimistic about my chances of finishing in the automatic spots and I’d be fairly optimistic of the chances of a pick. I am not really too worried about it.

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“My form the last couple of months has certainly shown the captain that I’m playing well. I will take a week off then get ready for the [FedEx] play-offs, keep some energy in the tank. I think I am pretty much guaranteed [to qualify for] the first three play-offs, but we are having our baby the second week so I will spend that week at home and experience that next chapter in my life.”