Regardless of how Sunday's final round of the PGA Tour Championship at Whistling Straits ends up, one thing is certain.
Tiger Woods has no business being a member of the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup.
Anyone who has seen play these last two weeks, let alone this tour season, has undoubtedly seen Woods struggle in a way that he has not his entire career. Putting aside Woods' disaster at Firestone, has play through three rounds has seemed tepid at best.
In his first three rounds, Woods has failed to put together the total package that we are accustomed to seeing. While he did have a strong start on Thursday, he failed to keep up the red numbers that all of his peers appear to have achieved.
On Friday, it was his driver that was getting him into trouble as he struggled out of the gate to find the fairway. On Saturday, Woods had less trouble finding the green in the early going, but botched two seemingly Tiger-esque birdie putts, before fading into the field.
A course like Whistling Straits used to be Woods' specialty. An old-school links course modeled after Woods' cherished St. Andrews. It was a course that required accuracy from tee to green, and punished those who played without swing discipline. That seems to be Woods' game these days. It has been only the strength of his short game that has kept him from missing the cut this weekend.
Woods' struggles at St. Andrews and at Whistling Straits should serve as a precursor for how he would fair at the Twenty-Ten Course at Celtic Manor in Whales. The course is much like the aforementioned pair of links, and it would be difficult to expect different results from Woods given the circumstances.
Woods has publicly stated his focus and emphasis has always been on the major tournaments. He has often downplayed his results at the Ryder Cup, as well as the underlying disunity he provides when he does play.
Woods' record speaks for itself. Other than 1999, Woods has never been a member of a victorious U.S. Team. Woods lost both of his singles matches on the Friday in 2002. He then halved his singles match to Jesper Parnevik, as the U.S. lost on the final day. In 2004 he was paired with Phil Mickelson in hopes of securing two easy pairs matches victory.
Instead, Woods and Lefty lost both matches essentially ending the U.S.'s hopes before the weekend.
Fast-forward to 2008, a year in which Tiger was unable to participate in the Ryder Cup due to his rehabilitation. Without Woods (who had won the U.S. Open on one leg), many experts predicted another European victory, leaving the Americans winless since 1999.
Yet with Woods out, the Americans rallied. Led by many less-hearalded players such as Kenny Perry, Anthony Kim, J.B. Holmes, and Boo Weekley, the Americans throttled the British at Valhala. The victory, which was won 16 1/2 to 11 1/2, gave the U.S. their greatest victory since 1982, and left many to wonder if the team was better off without Tiger Woods.
With just over two months to go, it is evident that the pressure of the captain's picks is getting to U.S. captain Corey Pavin. Pavin, according to Jim Gray, confirmed Woods selection to the team as a captain's pick. Pavin was skittish with the mainstream media, and vehemently denied the claim going forward.
While Gray undoubtedly stands on thin ice when it comes to his credibility and reporting (see "The Decision"), he has certainly tapped onto a sore spot for Pavin, and many who are involved with the selection of the team.
Currently, Woods sits at 10th in the points standings of those in contention to make the team. The first eight are automatically granted spots, and it is up to Pavin to select the best four remaining candidates, regardless of whether they are in the nine through 12 spots.
While Woods continues to be maddeningly inconsistent, another potential U.S. candidate has emerged as somewhat of an anti-Tiger.
That player would be Nick Watney. Watney, a 29-year-old from from Sacramento, currently holds the lead at 13-under going into the final round on Sunday.
In the first three rounds, Watney has possessed all the tools necessary to succeed on a links course, as well as highly competitive field. Throughout the tournament, the leaderboard has been jam-packed. Golfers both experienced and novice have struggled to sepearte themselves from the field.
Yet, Watney took the competition by storm on Saturday, shooting 66, one stroke off the course record. He birdied seven holes, including all three of the par fives. He made only one bogey, on hole eight, which is widely considered to be the hardest hole on the course.
Even in the face of adversity Watney showed his strength. On 18, he more than likely got over zealous. He hit a bad tee shot into the rough, and his second shot, an attempt at a lay-up on this most difficult par four was tucked onto the side of the hill around 65 yards short of the green buried in the rough. Yet, Watney pitched out to about 15 feet off the cup and two-putted for a bogey, leaving him at 12-under.
It is these little moments that determine success at the Ryder Cup. The moments that Watney is sure to produce in the final round. While Watney may have just come into his own on the pro tour this season, he has, at least this weekend, shown the poise that is necessary to compete on the internationally competitive microscope that is the Ryder Cup.
In his interviews he has said and done all the right things, and truly seems to mean them. It is evident that while winning the Tour Championship is his main goal, being selected to the Ryder Cup would be a great feeling as well.
While it may be a great story, it also gives the U.S. the best chance of winning. The mental and physical state of Tiger's game, and most likely his life, have shown that he is undeserving of the honor to compete with his fellow countrymen for an event that matters more than majors or money—a concept which nearly all of the American golfers have embraced, except for Woods.
Since Tiger's injury and marital problems, American golf has seen the decline of isolationists such as Woods, and seen the rise of a younger and hungrier generation of American golfers. It is no coincidence that the U.S. won the 2008 Ryder Cup without him.
It is also not shocking to see the dominance of U.S. players atop the leader board at Whistling Straights. With the selection of Watney, and the neglect of Woods, the U.S. would be able to show the golfing world a new era of dominance in team golf, and encourage the collective spirit necessary to succeed.
While it is true the golfing world has for better—and lately, certainly for worse—revolved around Tiger, it's is time for a change. Until Woods straightens out his life and his game, it is time to focus the spotlight elsewhere.
As much as many love to watch Tiger Woods fail, I'd rather watch Nick Watney succeed.
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