The last few weeks felt like a public game of chicken between Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, his most controversial potential team member.
Watson repeatedly offered the same refrain: “If he’s healthy and playing well, I’ll pick him.” This despite the fact that Woods wasn’t scheduled to play any more competitive golf in the six weeks between now and the Ryder Cup, thereby unable to prove his health.
Meanwhile, Woods only maintained that he wanted to make the team on his own merit – you know the old line: Winning takes care of everything. Once it was assured that he couldn’t play his way onto the roster, he deflected the decision to Watson, leaving it in the captain’s hands.
Finally, on Wednesday night, it was Woods who flinched first, putting an end to this lengthy game of chicken while also putting an end to him being considered for the team.
It wasn’t only a smart move, it was the right move.
Anyone who witnessed Woods’ constant wincing and limping throughout each of the last two weeks understood that he not only returned too soon from March 31 microdiscectomy surgery, but he wasn’t going to be able to rest up for a few weeks and suddenly regain what he terms his “explosiveness” and “firing sequences.”
But let’s examine the hypothetical repercussions of what might have happened had Woods not reached the decision, if the game of chicken ended with Watson and Woods calling each other’s bluffs.
As part of this year’s Ryder Cup team, Woods would have shouldered a burden like never before. With 11 teammates – not to mention his entire country – counting on him, if he was neither healthy nor playing well (or both, a likely scenario based on his last few performances), the blame would fall less on Watson for picking him and more on Woods himself for not declining the pick. Against a heavily favored European side, he would have been an easy scapegoat for the masses.
Woods’ announcement also saves him the embarrassment of not being selected. Injury and performance undoubtedly had a lot to do with his withdrawal from consideration, but let’s not understate the impact of his pride.
Woods and Watson already have a formal, if frosty, relationship. If the captain failed to put his most famous American player on the team, the decision would have come across in part as public disrespect. By beating him to the punch, Woods avoided such disparagement to his ego.
None of that, however, should detract from Woods’ personal resolution.
“The U.S. team and the Ryder Cup mean too much to me not to be able to give it my best,” he said in a statement. “I’ll be cheering for the U.S. team. I think we have an outstanding squad going into the matches.”
In this situation, he couldn’t have offered more appropriate words.
It underscores that this wasn’t just a smart decision for Woods. It was also the right decision.