A Captains Dilemma


PGA of AmericaAKRON, Ohio – There are three basic tenets to a successful Ryder Cup captaincy – avoid really bad pairings (Hal Sutton in 2004), really bad shirts (Ben Crenshaw in 1999) and really bad circumstances (Tom Lehman in 2006).

That is, of course, unless you’re Corey Pavin and you find yourself being backed into a really bad corner.

If Freddie Couples’ 2009 Presidents Cup stint was characterized by a “captain cool” atmosphere, Pavin’s early calling card may be something along the lines of “captain come on.”

No? Consider Pavin’s options as the matches close in on the scrappy captain with an American star in Tiger Woods who appears either unable or unwilling to make this year’s squad.

Forget Saturday’s 75 from Woods at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his worst round ever at Firestone. It is, by and large, the status quo for a season that has many more valleys than peaks.

Captain Corey plans to huddle with Woods next week at Whistling Straits for a meeting that promises to be largely one-sided. At ninth on the U.S. points list, the best player of his generation, perhaps of all time, certainly has the resume to justify a captain’s pick.

That is, of course, if he even needs a freebie. His record at the PGA Championship (four victories and eight top 10s) is impossible to ignore and we’ve watched him do more with less before (see Open, 2008 U.S.). Woods and Pavin also have time on their side. The captain’s picks are not made until Sept. 7 and a lot can change in four weeks.

Whether the world No. 1 has any interest in making the hop to Wales for a week full of pomp and team play is the more important question.

On Wednesday Woods was asked whether he would want to be a captain’s pick if it came to that: “I'm planning on playing my way into the team,” Woods said sternly.

Asked a second time and the response was even more chilly, “I'm planning on playing my way into the team.”

Tough to read between so few lines, but as early as June’s Memorial tournament, Woods and Steve Stricker, who paired together so successfully last year at Harding Park, talked about this year’s matches.

“For sure he can help the team and I hope I’m his partner again,” Stricker said. “He’s as tough a competitor as anyone and I can’t imagine him sitting at home.”

Stricker would know, he teamed with Woods last year to secure four points for the American side and was paired with him more in 2009 than any other player. But that was a different time, a different Tiger.

The man who is currently placed third from last among a field of 80 players in Ohio seems to be missing some of the cache or confidence that lifted him to 14 Grand Slam tilts.

For Pavin, however, his hands are tied. To not make Woods a captain’s pick, even a Woods who is firing on six of eight cylinders, would ignite immediate second guessing from the media. Woods, a true competitor despite his current form, could provide Pavin with political cover by publically declining a spot, although Stricker can’t imagine that scenario.

“If he’s outside the top 8 (automatic qualifying) and (Pavin) asked him to be a pick I imagine he would do it,” Stricker said. “He’s trying to rebuild an image and I don’t think that would be a good way to start.”

Besides, among the players currently on the outside looking to be one of four picks (Nos. 10 Hunter Mahan, 11 Ricky Barnes and 12 Ben Crane) it’s hard to make an argument that Woods is not deserving.

So it is with both player and captain backed into a corner the odds of Woods not being on the Air American charter bound for Wales later this year seems about as slim as his title chances at Firestone.

Still, that does little to help Pavin.

Given Woods’ current status on the FedEx Cup points list, 111th and fading, it is not a stretch to imagine a first-round Playoff exit, which would create a three-week competitive void before the matches and likely only exacerbate his playing problems.

And deepen the corner Pavin now finds his back against.