Barring a miracle of almost Lazarus proportions, Scotland will have to get used to the idea that Tiger Woods will not be the encore at Gleneagles for Usain Bolt in Glasgow.
The 38-year-old looks certain to miss the Ryder Cup after hopes of a return to health just four months after spinal surgery disappeared on Sunday as Woods was carted off the course in agony in Akron, Ohio, midway through his final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
“Everyone thinks I am going to pick Tiger automatically but I can assure you that is not the case,” said US captain Tom Watson at The Open last month. “I’ve said all along I’ll pick Tiger if he’s healthy and playing well. And it’s the same for Phil [Mickelson]. If Phil and Tiger don’t make it in the mix, I’ve got some real thinking to do,” Watson said.
Watson shouldn’t have to think for too long. Missing the Ryder Cup is the least of Woods’ worries. Back injuries have ended careers. Woods and Mickelson were likely dependant on receiving one of three wildcard picks available to each captain.
Woods’s absence, however, could be a blessing since his ailing body keeps breaking down, he and Watson have a frosty relationship and his record in the biennial dust-up between Europe and the USA, now just eight weeks away, is dismal – just 14½ points won from 33 matches. Mickelson’s final-round 62 on Sunday was a timely reminder to Watson that he is a birdie machine.
There was a return to form, too, for Mickelson’s partner from Chicago in 2012, Keegan Bradley. They are in 10th and 11th spots on the US Ryder Cup standings. If they don’t squeeze in, expect both to be picked after the final qualifying event this week, the USPGA Championship at Valhalla. The team will also include Masters champion Bubba Watson, defending USPGA champion Jason Dufner, veterans Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson and rising poster boys of American golf Rickie Fowler and 20-year-old rookie Jordan Spieth. But a big loss to Watson’s team will be Dustin Johnson, who, according to the PGA Tour, has taken a voluntary break to deal with personal issues.
Europe’s captain Paul McGinley would have been uncorking the champagne after witnessing Rory McIlroy’s return to World No 1 following yet another imperious victory from the 25-year-old Northern Irishman in Ohio. McGinley said he believed McIlroy was on the way to dominating like Woods has in the past.
“There is no reason why not,” he said. “That’s the best exhibition of driving I have ever seen in terms of length and accuracy.”
How about a McIlroy-Sergio Garcia partnership in Gleneagles? Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer will all be in Scotland, too, while Luke Donald has fallen through the trap door into 10th place but will surely receive a wildcard if required.The same can now be said for Lee Westwood in 16th place. The 41-year-old Ryder Cup stalwart fired a final-round 63 to signal his return after four missed cuts in a row.
“I think the captain knows what I can do. My record speaks for itself,” Westwood said. “But Paul wants to see me show some form and I think a 63 is form.”
Ian Poulter is the main worry for Europe. Short of form and nursing an injured wrist, could McGinley leave out Europe’s talisman? Colin Montgomerie thinks so. “It doesn’t matter how passionate you are. That’s what the Brazilians thought they could win the World Cup on,” he said. “You’ve still got to be playing golf.”