The Only Option


The TV producer and one of his lieutenants argued about it for most of Tuesday afternoon. Tiger Woods hasn’t earned a berth on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, said the guy in charge. Not only has he played poorly in 2010, his record in the event is mediocre, especially for a man with 71 PGA Tour victories and 14 major titles. Besides, the U.S. won at Valhalla without Woods, whose past greatness isn’t a sufficient reason to award him a captain’s pick over somebody who is playing better now.

Hold on a minute, said the associate producer. Are you telling me Woods isn’t one of America’s 12 best golfers? That’s what this is all about – finding the best mix of talent, experience and current form. Sure, Tiger chopped it up last week at Firestone, but the matches against Europe are still seven weeks away. If anyone is capable of picking up two or three victories between now and then, it’s the Dude in the Red Shirt.

Back and forth they went. Point versus counterpoint, past versus present, logic versus fact. When Golf Channel contributor Jim Gray asked U.S. captain Corey Pavin if he would add Woods to his squad – provided Tiger doesn’t qualify with a decent showing at this week’s PGA Championship – the skipper left no doubt where he stood on the matter. Yes, Pavin told Gray, he would give Woods a spot, and if there were any questions regarding Tiger’s willingness to accept such an invitation, the Embattled One laid them to rest at his pre-tournament news conference by saying he would take the offer.

Despite compelling evidence for and against Woods’ worthiness as a selection, Pavin really has no choice but to make room for him on the roster. Winning in Kentucky is one thing. To do it again in Wales will require premium performances from players with gigantic upsides, and the last time anyone checked, the upsides don’t come any bigger than that of the most dominant golfer ever.

Secondly, Woods has been an effective contributor on U.S. teams in recent years, most notably while winning all five of his matches at the Presidents Cup last October. There were some legitimate questions about his interest level in the early stages of his career, and in that context, that negative perception have lingered somewhat unfairly. Attempts to find Tiger a compatible partner seemed to go on forever, but from his short-lived success with childhood pal Chris Reilly to the infamous bust with fellow superstar Phil Mickelson, Woods’ recent success with Steve Stricker appears to have finally resolved that problem.

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

From a purely pragmatic standpoint, Pavin knows his team is better with Woods than, say, Jeff Overton. More imposing and a lot more reliable – an overseas Ryder Cup is not the time or place to be experimenting with unproven commodities. Tiger may not be the rah-rah type when it comes to leadership skills, but when he walks into the team room, there isn’t a player on the American side who doesn’t feel his presence, greatness, and penchant for reaching into his pocket for an occasional miracle.

That said, there isn’t a player on the European side who doesn’t feel a little more pressure when Eldrick Almighty strides to the first tee. The results haven’t always been there, but overall, Woods has been an asset to the U.S. cause, which is why Pavin has done the right thing by eliminating the suspense and adding Tiger to the squad despite his recent woes. For all the emphasis we impart on who’s playing well and who’s not, seven weeks is an eternity in the world of competitive golf.

He’ll figure it out. This is a deeper hole than any Woods has gotten himself into, but as risks go, Pavin’s so-called leap of faith hardly qualifies. Even if Tiger doesn’t.