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The Count-Down to the Ryder Cup 2014 -
Valhalla “Hall of the Slain”

August 15, 2014 by Stuart Barber

The PGA Championship at Valhalla bore witness to its Norse folklore effectively ending the comeback of Tiger Woods, certainly until time has healed his back, but possibly permanently.

Tom Watson said of Woods in his press conference during the PGA "He brings something to the team in a big way. The most important thing is can he play?" and then “If he's healthy and is playing well, I'll pick him”. Adding that Tiger had told him ‘I want you to pick me'

However the conundrum of “should he- will he?” is now over. The man himself has finally accepted what the pundits were all saying, namely that he needs rest and careful monitoring before playing again, and that he should not be considered for Gleneagles.

"While I greatly appreciate Tom thinking about me for a possible captain's Pick, I must take myself out of consideration," Woods said in a statement released Wednesday by the PGA of America, who co-run the Ryder Cup. "I've been told by my doctors and trainer that my back muscles need to be rehabilitated and healed. They've advised me not to play or practice now.

"I'm extremely disappointed that I won't be ready for the competition. The U.S. team and the Ryder Cup mean too much to me not to be able to give it my best. I'll be cheering for the U.S. team. I think we have an outstanding squad going into the matches."

Now the speculation continues on who the captain will name as his three wild-card selections on 2 nd September. Phil Mickelson's second-place finish at Valhalla meant he qualified automatically for the USA team. Aside from the wild cards, Mickelson joins Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Zach Johnson in sealing places for Gleneagles.

One player who will be in the opposite team is Rory McIlroy, whose one-stroke win over Mickelson sealed consecutive major success . Watson was perfectly happy to talk up the Northern Irishman, despite his Ryder Cup allegiance. “I wish he was playing for my team, I can tell you that,” he said. “He is playing great. I like his manner. I like the way he plays. He reminds me of me, the way I play. He just picks it up, gets on with it. He's ready to go. He plays his shot and takes the consequences. Finds it and hits it again”.

“Right now, he's driving the ball better than anyone in the game. He has confidence in the driver; when you have the confidence in the driver that he has right now, and you have the ability to hit the ball as far, the game is easy. He knows it and everybody else knows it.”

Watson disagreed that Europe's strength, and injuries to Woods, Jason Dufner and Kuchar, would bring him special cause for concern. “I think the European team is the stronger of the teams right now on paper,” he said, “but I have extreme confidence in the players that we have on our team and their motivation to go out and win the cup back. It doesn't leave me any question that we're capable of winning the cup.”

What of that European team, finalised after the Italian Open, leaving Paul McGinley with his three selections also to be announced on September 2 nd ? The leading nine players are currently Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Victor Dubuisson, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn, Jamie Donaldson, and Graeme McDowell. But for the Europeans there are still opportunities for a number of players to fill those automatic spots, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Joost Luiton, Stephen Gallacher, Francesco Molinari and Juan-Miguel Jimenez – even Lee Westwood, but for him possibly the Captain's pick is the only possibility. So much to play for and many points to be won or lost.

Interesting to read that the American TV ratings which had plummeted without Woods playing now seem to have adopted McIlroy as his anointed successor and the ratings are on the rise again.

We'll see what the next month holds as the Europeans jockey for those last secure places or impress the Captain in the choice of his picks. For Tom Watson he must hope that the injured players improve and are fit and that those not so far in the team show him some form for his picks.

With the question of Gleneagles resolved, what now of Tiger Woods? He first played in the UK in the Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl in 1995. Walking with him during both days, one was struck by the immense potential as a striker of the ball and the talent within him.

In fact, as in later years in the Ryder Cup, his results don't reflect this. Losing his first afternoon's singles to Gary Wolstenholme on day one, was accomplished with little grace. He also lost his 2 nd day morning foursomes, but gained a single point for the USA in the afternoon's singles, turning the tables on Wolstenholme. So one point only in the 14 to 10 defeat of the United States when GB&I won back the Walker Cup. On the winning side Stephen Gallacher was victorious in both his singles matches- a portent for Gleneagles?

In recent years one has been struck by the graceless manner of Woods, perhaps brought on by his exploits off the course, but as his power on it has waned so his manner has become more boorish. At The Open this year his actions certainly did not match his words, and although he said he wanted to win he didn't look as though he even wanted to be there. Then at Firestone nothing looked right before he retired in the last round, with very obvious pain in his back. To everyone's surprise he reappeared at Valhalla for nine holes of practice, before playing the tournament but missing the cut. The mind said one thing but the body couldn't respond.

“Woods reminds me of an ageing Hollywood actor who has had too much plastic surgery,” Brandel Chamblee the Golf Channel analyst said. “He is unrecognisable.”

There have been other theories put forward to explain Woods's spinal predicament, the favourite being that he has spent too much time in the gym. But everyone seems in agreement that Woods came back too soon from the operation in the desperation to resume the major achievements of Jack Nicklaus.

When he was the King everyone wrote about him. Now he's in real trouble, not personal this time, but in actually playing the game of which he was the master, we're all at it again. This time there is a difference and that's one Rory McIlroy. Will Rory's genius effervesce as did that of Seve, and the Tiger, to flower and blossom into This Year's Man?

I think so! Forty two days and counting and we'll know.

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