LITTLE ROCK — Written prior to the final round of the PGA Tour event, the lead said, “… naming either of America’s most well known golfers to the U.S. Ryder Cup team is indefensible.”
After Phil Mickelson recorded a course-record 10 birdies in a 62 and Tiger Woods withdrew with back pain on Sunday, I’m hedging a tiny bit on Mickelson and am more convinced than ever about Woods.
The original premise was that unless Mickelson or Woods had a flashback and won the PGA Championship this week, Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson should pass on both. My hope was that he was sincere when he said he would not pick them automatically and that he would not be swayed by the unlikely happenstance that representing the red, white, and blue would straighten out Mickelson’s putting and Woods’ driving.
The PGA Championship is the final event with Ryder Cup points available and the top nine are automatic. As captain, Watson will pick three next month for the competition that begins Sept. 23 in Scotland.
This week, America’s top nine are Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Jason Dufner, and Zach Johnson.
Johnson would have been on the outside if Dustin Johnson had not taken a leave of absence to seek help for what he called personal challenges.
Mickelson is No. 10, but his point total of 3,350,338 needs close examination. He banked more than 2 million of his points by tying for second in June 2013 at the U.S. Open and winning the British Open a month later.
Since February, he has missed the cut in three of 12 tournaments, withdrawn from another, and has not finished in the Top 10. For a while, he has been saying he is close. He said things clicked on Sunday, that the final round was a confidence-builder, that he likes the Louisville, Kentucky, course where the PGA is being played, and that he has performed well there previously.
So, prove it.
One superb round without pressure is not evidence that Mickelson is on top of his game and remember that if there had been a 36-hole cut, Mickelson would not have played the weekend.
If, indeed, Mickelson is back on track, he can play his way onto the team immediately since money won this week is worth double points. If he fails there, the FedEx Cup series of four events begins Aug. 21 and he is a virtual lock to qualify for the first two events. If he can’t post at least one Top 10 in those events, then Watson should pass on the 44-year-old. If time allows, Watson could even wait to see if Mickelson is among the 30 in the Tour Championship.
Mickelson has played in nine Ryder Cup competitions, but Furyk and Johnson can provided counseling to Ryder Cup rookies Walker and Spieth and others and the team captain is well versed in golf in Scotland.
The deck was stacked against Woods before he drove the ball poorly on No. 2 on Sunday and jumped back into a bunker after his second from an awkward stance. Prior to the injury, it should be noted that he only hit eight fairways on Thursday and four on Friday. He switched to an old driver Saturday and was 6 of 14. He explained the move by saying his old driver is lighter and he is not as explosive as he needs to be. Sans the injury, it would have been far-fetched to think he would regain his swing speed in a few weeks.
Although Woods’ caddie was at the site of the PGA on Monday, his participation is doubtful. Even if Woods had completed his final round in Ohio and made the cut at the PGA, he would have missed the FedEx Cup series and his resume would have consisted of no more than 18 rounds of competitive golf since March.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.