Back as recently as January, it would have been preposterous to ponder how Tiger Woods could join Ryder Cup USA at Le National, Paris, France, as anything other than a Vice Captain.
But, nearly four full months into Tiger's latest comeback, here we are. And, guess what? Tiger in Paris as a player isn't a crazy thought... at all.
Woods has been incredibly impressive in his return after missing the entire 2015-16 PGA Tour season and all but two rounds in 2016-17.
In eight starts this season, Woods has missed the cut once (Genesis Open), finished T23 (Torrey Pines), T2 (Valspar Championship), T5 (Bay Hill), T32 in the Masters, T55 at Wells Fargo Championship and T11 at the Players Championship.
In the process, he's been collecting valuable Ryder Cup points and -- as of May 14 -- he was No. 31 in the USA standings with 1,460.159. That's 2,213.088 points behind Phil Mickelson, who currently occupies the eighth and final automatic qualifying spot.
OK. A couple of things...
That's still a lot of points to make up and the number to stay in the top 8 is only going to grow over time.
But, as they say, "timing is everything."
Woods played in just two rounds on the PGA Tour in 2017 before having to undergo back surgery again and miss the remainder of the season.
In 2017, though, Ryder Cup USA points were only available at the World Golf Championships and the Players (one point per every $2,000 won), and the four majors (one point per $1,000 earned).
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, every non-opposite PGA Tour event began counting for Ryder Cup USA points. Here's the breakdown of how points are awarded in 2018:
2018 Regular PGA Tour events
- 1 point per $1,000 earned
Note: Beginning January 1, 2018, through the PGA Championship, August 12, 2018; includes the Zurich Classic of New Orleans team event and WGC events.
* 2018 Opposite Field PGA TOUR events will NOT receive points.
2018 Major Championships
- 2 points per $1,000 earned for the winner
- 1.5 points per $1,000 earned for all others to make the cut at The Masters; U.S. Open; Open Championship; PGA Championship.
Note: The points system for the American team will conclude on August 12, 2018, following the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, with the top eight (8) players on the points list securing spots on the U.S. Team.
- The four (4) remaining slots on the U.S. Team will be Captain's Selections. Three selections will be announced by Captain Jim Furyk following the Dell Technologies Championship scheduled to be completed on September 3, 2018, and the final selection will be announced after the BMW Championship, which is slated to be completed on September 9, 2018.
All of that brings us back to Tiger and a not-so-far-fetched way to get back to his first Ryder Cup as a player since 2012 at Medinah.
Tiger's T32 at the Masters was a bit of a missed opportunity given his track record at Augusta National -- 13 top 10s in 21 starts overall -- but then again it was just the first time he played there since 2015.
He also left some points at on the table at the Players Championship. Woods made the cut on the number at TPC Sawgrass, but soared up the leaderboard on moving day with a 7-under 65. At one point in the final round, he was in second place. He stumbled down the stretch though, playing the final five holes in 3-over par -- including a double bogey on the par-3 17th -- to tie for 11th.
So what's next? Based on his history, we probably won't see Tiger again until the end of May at the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio -- a place he's won five times. Again, a great opportunity to collect Ryder Cup points given his track record.
That brings us to June and the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. A win there -- which would be Tiger's first major victory since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and a 15th major title overall -- would mean double points and make him a no-doubt automatic qualifier.
Tiger did tie for 17th the last time the U.S. Open was held at Shinnecock in 2004, so maybe that's a good sign. But he also withdrew from the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock -- as an amateur -- citing a wrist injury caused by the brutal fescue. But that was ages ago.
Hypothetically, let's say Tiger finished just inside the top 10 at the two tournaments listed above. Based on last year's payout at those events, Woods would collect the following number of Ryder Cup points...
- The Memorial, T10: $217,500; 217.5 Ryder Cup points
- The U.S. Open, T9: $279,524; 419.286 Ryder Cup points
Add that to his current total and he'd have 2,096.945 points. Based on the points as they stand today -- of course things will change for everyone between now and then -- that would have Tiger in the No. 15 spot in Ryder Cup USA points.
If that doesn't pan out, remember that Woods will still have two more majors to play (Open Championship and PGA Championship) and possibly four more regular Tour events (the National, Greenbrier, Canadian Open and Bridgestone Invitational which he still needs to qualify for) before the automatic qualifiers are decided.
This year's Open Championship will be at Carnoustie. Woods tied for seventh there in 1999 and tied for 17th in 2007.
Bellerive Country Club, host of the 2018 PGA Championship, will be new for everyone -- it hasn't hosted a PGA Championship since 1992.
When we look back, 2013 was the last season in which Woods was truly healthy. During that season, he collected eight top 10s in 16 starts, including five victories.
He won't equal that feat in 2018; but he doesn't have to.
Bottom line: There's still plenty of time for Tiger to qualify on points.
The point is that what may have seemed absurd to consider even two months ago is a very real possibility -- Tiger Woods playing golf instead of watching it in Paris... and as an automatic qualifier.
Oh, and if he's hovering anywhere in the top 25 of the standings, healthy and playing competitive golf, is there any captain in Ryder Cup history who would consider leaving him off the team as a captain's pick if needed?