WGC Bridgestone Invitational 2014: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy face Ryder Cup phoney war

This is only Woods’ third tournament since back surgery in April, leaving him way out of the automatic selections

It’s the Ryder Cup seven weeks ahead of schedule. Seventeen of the 38 two-balls at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational on Thursday feature European players versus American.

Only 12 players from each side of the Atlantic will be included in the teams at Gleneagles in September, making the points available this week of huge value for those on the fringe of selection. 

Rory McIlroy, leading those already qualified and playing his first event since winning the Open at Hoylake a fortnight ago, is paired with Matt Kuchar. The US Open champion Martin Kaymer has the pleasure of Tiger Woods’ company.

The theme continues with Justin Rose walking out with the joint Open runner-up Rickie Fowler. Sergio Garcia, who shared second with Fowler at Royal Liverpool, is paired with Phil Mickelson.

This is only Woods’ third tournament since back surgery in April, leaving him way out of the automatic selections. When he was last in this kind of pickle four years ago needing the nod from captain Corey Pavin, Woods produced one of his most convincing displays, returning three points at Celtic Manor.

More of a problem is the four empty weeks looming should he fail to make the Fed-Ex Play-offs which begin at the end of August. “In the end it’s what can you do for your team [and whether] you’re able to contribute,” Woods said. “The whole idea is that when your name is called, are you able to get a point? That’s what we’re going to try to do. Hopefully, I can get on the team and be a part of that.”

Jack Nicklaus spoke the common sense he believes the US captain, Tom Watson, will adopt. “I don’t care what he does between now and then,” Nicklaus said. “If Tiger wants to play, I would certainly choose him.

“My guess is that Tom feels pretty much the same way. Tom would certainly like to have Tiger on his team and I think anybody in their right mind, unless he just doesn’t want to play or doesn’t think he could play, would not choose him.”

No such issues for McIlroy. His growing stature in the game is reflected in the auction item that the ball that won the Open has become. McIlroy launched his ball into the crowd at Hoylake and the recipient is seeking to maximise his good fortune by making it available to the highest bidder.

The sale, conducted by Green Jacket Auctions in the United States, reports a bid of more than $3,000. Bidding closes on 9 August. “How many chances will a collector have in their entire life to obtain the actual ball used to win a Major Championship?” said a spokesman. “This is a ball that will only gain in significance for the next 20, 50, even 100 years. In the collecting world, this is what’s called a dream piece.”

Only Nicklaus and Woods have done what McIlroy has in winning three of the four majors by 25. With the final big one of the season following on directly next week the focus will remain on the Northern Irishman come what may this week.

McIlroy tackled questions of consistency, which he conceded has not been what it might, which is a blessing for his rivals. “The good is great and the bad is really bad,” he said. “I’m working on it, but I think most players would take the kind of inconsistency I have shown.”