TOM WATSON has indicated he will not pick Tiger Woods for the United States team that will play in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles later this year unless he displays a stark improvement in form and qualifies for the FedEx Cup.
Woods spent three months out of action after undergoing major surgery on a pinched nerve in his back in March and performed unconvincingly in the Open at Hoylake. The 14-time major winner carded a three-over-par 75 in his final round yesterday to finish on six over par overall - just four shots better than Rhein Gibson in last place after the cut.
In fairness to the former world No.1, it was only his second competitive outing since making his comeback last month. Surviving the halfway cut on the Wirral peninsula was progress of sorts.
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However, the 38-year-old has not played well enough to justify Watson making him one of his three wild-card selections for the biennial contest with Europe in September. And time is running out for Woods. He is currently 212th in the FedEx Cup standings and has just two tournaments - the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA Championship - to get into the top 125 and qualify for the end-of-season play-offs.
Failure to do so would leave him without any tournaments to play in the build-up to the Ryder Cup. Unless, that is, he chose to play on the European Tour or Asian Tour in an attempt to prove to Watson he is performing well enough.
But the likelihood of him doing that is slim. Incredibly, Watson was seven shots better than his countryman in the final round - the 64-year-old finished off with a four-under-par 68 - yesterday and five shots better for the tournament on one over par. The five-time Open champion, though, appreciates the process Woods is going through and is hopeful of having him fully fit and in fine form on his 12-man team in Perthshire. "If Tiger is playing well and is in good health I'll pick him," he said. "The caveat to that is what do I do if he doesn't make the FedEx Cup? It looks as if he was playing without pain at the Open.
"But, again, he was not in the mix. He needed to do that to get some money, get some points and get into the FedEx Cup. That is what I was hoping he would do. If Phil [Mickelson] and Tiger don't make it I have got some real thinking to do. Everybody is thinking I am going to pick them automatically. But I can assure you that I'm not going to pick them automatically.
"It's a little early with Tiger to talk about where he is. But he definitely needs to be higher up on the list. It would be tougher for me to pick him if he's not playing."
Despite finishing at the tail end of the field, Woods felt his outing was "encouraging" as he continues his rehabilitation from injury.
"I was able to hit the ball hard and I was able to recover every day," he said. "I am still building, still working on my game, still getting stronger and still getting faster. I didn't play very well today. But I got four rounds in."
The Californian was selected for the United States team by Corey Pavin in 2010 after a spell out with an Achilles injury and won three out of his four matches in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor. He spoke positively about the prospect of being involved at Gleneagles and has not ruled out playing well enough to qualify for the side on merit.
"If I win my next two tournaments it should take care of it," he said. "Hopefully I can earn my way on to the team. I have been down for three months. It is coming along."