Tom Watson's Evolving Position on Tiger Woods and the Ryder Cup

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

Sep 28, 2012; Medinah, IL, USA; United States golfer Tiger Woods hits a shot on the 17th hole during the 39th Ryder Cup on day one at Medinah Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It is clear that U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson’s position on using one of his three captain’s picks to select Tiger Woods has evolved over the past four months.

In early April, Watson told’s Joe Posnanski, "I’ll pick him [Woods] for the team. I just hope he gets well and starts to play again without pain. That’s all that matters."

This statement from Watson came as something of a surprise to many, particularly when you consider that Woods had undergone surgery to relieve a pinched nerve in his back just days earlier. 

Watson stuck firmly to this position for more than two months.

It wasn’t until Woods returned to action at the Quicken Loans National and missed the cut by four strokes that Watson began to change his tune.

"I'll be watching Tiger as he plays,” Watson said, according to ASAP Sports, on June 2 at The Greenbrier. “He'll be playing at the Open Championship. Hope to get together with him there and tell him my feelings about him direct.  As I've said in front of the press, if he's playing well and he's healthy, he's on the team.”

Watson, like many others who had witnessed Woods’ poor play at Congressional, was likely taken aback by just how rusty the 14-time major champion’s game was.

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On July 14, while speaking at Royal Liverpool—where he was on hand for the 143rd Open Championship—Watson told the media, "It's performance. I could ask Tiger, how are you feeling? How are you feeling like you're hitting the ball? Are you hitting it well? And that doesn't mean anything, really. The performance means something. I'll be watching Tiger and I want him on the team."

When asked about whether he would pick Woods if his performance was mediocre heading into the Ryder Cup, Watson responded by saying, "At this point, again, those are the two parameters that I have. He's playing well and he's in good health. And I can't speculate how he's going to be playing through the PGA."

If the Ryder Cup were held tomorrow, Watson himself would actually be more qualified to play in the event than Woods.

Woods is currently 70th in the Ryder Cup points standings and has a missed cut and a 69th-place finish at his last two events. Woods also hasn’t contended for a tournament title in nearly 12 months.

Watson, on the other hand, tied for 35th at the Greenbrier Classic and tied for 51st at The Open Championship.

So, statistically speaking, Watson is playing better golf than Woods right now.

After an early hiccup in telling the media that Woods was essentially going to be a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team so long as he could stand up straight and put one leg in front of the other, Watson now appears to be thinking quite logically and has made it abundantly clear that Woods will need to show him something over the next couple of weeks if he wants to be a member of the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup squad.

Should Woods contend on Sunday in at least one of the next two events, Watson's decision could become a bit more difficult.

However, if Woods fails to climb his way up the leaderboard at both the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship, Watson would be quite foolish to even contemplate using one of his three captain’s pick on Woods.

If this Ryder Cup were taking place back in 2006, Woods playing on a broken leg would probably be a much better option for Watson than virtually any other American golfer.

But the year is 2014, and selecting Woods based solely on name recognition and past success would be detrimental to an American side that will already be immensely overmatched in Scotland. Plus, selecting Woods as a captain's pick would be rather unfair to those other 61 players who are currently ahead of Woods in the points standings.

Watson, who can best be described as a no-nonsense, old-school type of player, has always possessed a very intelligent golf mind.

And if his recent comments are anything to go by, Watson has clearly recognized that he simply cannot afford to weaken the American side any further by selecting a player who is by no means qualified to play in the Ryder Cup, even if that player’s name happens to be Tiger Woods.