Tiger Woods could play and vice-captain at Ryder Cup

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has held out hope of double duty for Woods, having noted that the former World No. 1 “has been challenging this year.”

Tiger Woods has not won a major since the 2008 US Open and not won any event since 2013.   -  AP

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk says Tiger Woods could play and serve as a vice-captain for the Americans if needed at next month's team showdown against Europe in France.

Woods, a 14-time major winner, must win this week's PGA Championship to qualify on points. But Furyk makes four captain's picks next month to complete the lineup and held out hope of double duty for Woods, who has battled back this year from spinal fusion surgery.

“It's possible he could do both,” Furyk said on Wednesday. “Is it best for the team? That's what we have to consider. He's a big help in either role. If he's on the team, he has always been a leader. As a player he plays both roles as well.”

This week's final major tournament of the year at Bellerive Country Club is the last U.S. team qualifying event.

Woods, 42, has not won a major since the 2008 US Open and not won any event since 2013, having missed most of the past two years with back injuries. The former World No. 1 was only weeks into his latest comeback in January when he brought up the subject of playing with Furyk, who wanted him early on as a vice-captain.

“At the time it took me off guard. He hadn't played in so long,” Furyk said. “He knew then that he was on the mend, that he was starting to feel better. He had a plan in place for this year and really felt like he could compete. That was probably a sign that I should have picked up a lot quicker on.”

Woods shared second at the US PGA Valspar Championship in March, fired his best final round in five years in sharing fourth at the National in June and led the British Open on Sunday before sharing sixth last month at Carnoustie. “By March I saw that his game was in a lot better shape and his health was in a lot better shape,” Furyk said. “So he has been challenging this year and moving up that points list, which has been fun to watch.”

Pondering a Tiger pick

Furyk wants to confirm his first eight players on Monday before thinking about captain's picks, but he has already pondered a place for 51st-ranked Woods. “I'm excited about seeing what we have at the end of this week. From that point on, I have three or four weeks before I have to make those picks,” Furyk said.

“So trying to interpret whether he's done enough or not done enough — I've obviously thought about it — but it's a position that I don't have to put myself in now.”

Woods would still have two US PGA playoff events to impress Furyk if he doesn't win this week. “We still get to see weeks ahead in big tournaments,” Furyk said. “And being 20th on the points with very few events is a pretty good spot.”

Read: Woods still dealing with physical challenges

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, second-ranked Justin Thomas, US Open winner Brooks Koepka and Masters champion Patrick Reed have already clinched berths for the American squad that will compete from September 28 to 30 at Le Golf National near Paris.

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Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth have enough points to all-but secure spots. Ninth-ranked Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson, the 2012 US Open champion, hold the last two places but a host of rivals are within reach, the nearest being Bryson DeChambeau and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson.

Tiger a popular partner

Furyk recalls being among many partners who paired up with Woods in his heyday. “It was hard to walk into his shoes with all the tension and all that pressure without being in his shoes every day,” Furyk said.

He says pairings would be easier now, a new generation anxious to play alongside their boyhood idol, a more familiar face after prior vice-captain roles while injured. “If he were to make the team, he would be a popular choice for guys to pick,” Furyk said. “Having Tiger around for the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup for the younger players to get to know him a lot better will ease that situation.”