In about three weeks, United States Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin may have a very tough decision to make regarding the world’s most well-known golfer, Tiger Woods. Eight American players, based on Ryder Cup points, will automatically be named to the U.S. team. Right now, Woods sits eighth on that list. But, if he can’t maintain a top-eight spot after next month’s PGA Championship, Pavin will have an agonizing choice to make.
As a player, Corey Pavin was one of the toughest competitors the Ryder Cup has ever seen. In 1995, at Oak Hill, I watched firsthand as Pavin (in his final Ryder-Cup appearance) single-handedly gave American captain Lanny Wadkins all the energy and enthusiasm his team needed to take a lead into the Sunday singles. But, when Curtis Strange lost his marquee match to Nick Faldo, the United States lost for just the second time ever on home soil. Since then, Europe has shown much more Ryder Cup verve than the Americans. And 1995 was the last pre-Tiger Ryder Cup.
And that leads to the question captain Pavin may soon have to ask himself. Are we a better team with, or without, Tiger Woods? Under Paul Azinger in 2008 at Valhalla, the U.S. won convincingly – without Woods. He was recovering from a knee injury, after winning a dramatic U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate.
In 2006, at the K Club in Ireland, with Woods, the Americans were slaughtered. Woods played in five matches, won three points, but the team lost. In 2004, at Oakland Hills outside Detroit, Woods and Phil Mickelson went together like caviar and ketchup as captain Hal Sutton thought it would be a good pairing. It was horrific.
Tiger has played in five Ryder Cups (1997, ’99, 2002 and the two mentioned above). His all-time record is 10-13-2. For a player of his supposed calibre, that sucks. By comparison, the man to whom Woods is most often compared, Jack Nicklaus, was 17-8-3 over six Ryder Cup Matches (1969-81).
Thanks to 2008 captain Paul Azinger, the American Ryder Cup captain now makes four captain’s picks, with the other eight players making the team based on Ryder-Cup points. If the 2010 Ryder Cup began today, the top-eight-on-the-points-list Americans would be Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim (who has a recovering-from-surgery thumb), Lucas Glover, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Tiger Woods. And that’s the problem.
If Woods fails to maintain his eighth spot (or better) through the PGA at Whistling Straits, which ends on Sunday, August 15th, captain Pavin will have to decide whether a not-playing-particularly-well Woods should be a captain’s pick. Hunter Mahan, Jeff Overton and Ricky Barnes are breathing down Woods’ neck on the points list.
If I’m in Pavin’s shoes, I’m silently hoping several of those guys pass Woods. Because, based on the way Tiger has played this year (and in Ryder Cups past), he doesn’t deserve to be a captain’s pick. He’s not a team player (Elin could confirm that). And I think Pavin is confident enough not to feel like he “has” to select Tiger with a captain’s pick. At least, I sure hope he is. Pavin’s assistants Tom Lehman, Paul Goydos, Jeff Sluman and Davis Love III will have plenty of advice regarding Tiger.
So when the 2010 Ryder Cup kicks off on Friday, October 1st at Celtic Manor in Wales, my bet is that Tiger is not on the American team. Which means Corey Pavin’s squad might actually have a chance at winning golf’s most cherished team trophy.