Tiger Woods puts Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk in ‘awkward’ spot


Zak Keefer, Indy Star
Published 1:13 p.m. ET Aug. 8, 2018

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ST. LOUIS — It was back in January when Jim Furyk asked the 668th-ranked player in the world — a golfer who, at that point, was coming off a fourth back surgery and had made all of one start in the last 12 months — if he’d serve as vice captain for the United States Ryder Cup team.

Sure, Tiger Woods said. Then he told Furyk he wanted more. He wanted to play.

What likely sounded ludicrous at the time doesn’t anymore.

“That was probably a sign that I should have picked up a lot quicker on,” Furyk, the U.S. captain, admitted Wednesday ahead of the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club. “I know Tiger always wanted to compete, but it became pretty (clear) — you know, quickly, by March, I saw that his game was in a lot better shape and his health was in a lot better shape.”

It was. And Tiger was about to prove it. Fourteen starts, five top 10s and 617 spots climbed in the world golf rankings later, Woods has put himself firmly in contention for one of Furyk’s four captain picks for the 2018 Ryder Cup, held in Paris at the end of September. Outside of a win this week at Bellerive — which would mark Woods’ first major championship triumph in a decade — a captain’s selection is the only way he’ll tee it up in Paris.

More: Expect birdies, anger on slow greens at Bellerive for PGA

More: Who will win PGA Championship at Bellerive? Our experts’ picks to win

It could present a dicey decision for Furyk, considering Woods is one of his three vice captains, along with Davis Love III and Steve Stricker. If it comes to that, Furyk acknowledged Wednesday that Woods will essentially have to recuse himself from the debate. It could be as simple as walking out of the room for 10 minutes while the remaining captains weigh his candidacy for a spot on his ninth Ryder Cup team.

Furyk speaks from experience. He had to do the same thing two years ago, when he served as a vice captain under Love, and the American captains were evaluating his candidacy as a player. (Furyk was eventually left off the team.)

“There was a time when the three of us were sitting in a conference room, and I went to the bathroom and came back 10 minutes later to kind of give them some opportunity to speak,” Furyk said. “It’s an awkward situation … I’ve known Tiger for a long time, and we’re friends, and I respect him. It’s not going to be a difficult process as far as having him having to recuse himself, and we’ll work those situations and issues like Davis and I did in the past.”

Woods currently sits 20th in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, but is coming off his best finish at a major championship in five years, tying for sixth at the British Open last month.

“I’ve gone from basically zero to 20th in seven months,” Woods said Tuesday. “As I said last week, I’m trending. So that’s all I’m going to say.”

Furyk’s squad will try and do something no U.S. team has in a quarter century: Win on European soil. Europe has won six of the last eight matches, including every one held overseas dating to 1993. The challenge is a steep one.

“In theory,” Furyk said, his team will be facing “possibly the strongest team Europe’s ever fielded. We have our hands full.”

Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler are all considered locks for the squad. An eighth automatic qualifier will earn his spot by Sunday night; Furyk will announce his four captain’s picks by the third leg of the FedEx Cup in September. Those in the running, along with Woods: Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, Kyle Stanley, Kevin Kisner and Brian Harman.

After the resurgence he’s had in 2018, plus the experience he’d bring to a young U.S. team — Woods is 4-1-2 in singles matches across eight Ryder Cups — it’d be a stunner if Woods continues to play well in the coming weeks and still was left off the team.

“Best player ever,” Furyk called him Wednesday. “He’s been challenging this year, and moving up that points list, which has been fun to watch.”

Furyk, paired up with Finau and Schauffele for the first two rounds this week, vowed to keep a close eye on the contenders during the year’s final major.

“I have three or four weeks before I have to make those picks,” Furyk said, before turning his focus to Woods. “So trying to interpret whether he’s done enough or not done enough really is … it’s a position I don’t have to put myself in now. But, surely, it’s fun to see him put himself in the mix, and being 20th on the points (list) with very few events is a pretty good spot.”

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