Jim Furyk says Tiger Woods still an option to play Ryder Cup

ST. LOUIS -- Jim Furyk can defer a decision on Tiger Woods and the Ryder Cup for a few more weeks, but the U.S. captain admitted Wednesday he was surprised the 14-time champion discussed being part of the team as a player back in January.

That is when Furyk asked Woods to be a vice captain for him at Le Golf National in France, site of the Ryder Cup at the end of September. Woods had assisted Davis Love III at the 2016 Ryder Cup and Steve Stricker at the 2017 Presidents Cup -- both American victories. (And Woods has since been named U.S. Presidents Cup captain in 2019.)

Woods was an obvious choice to do it again, and this was prior to him playing a single PGA Tour event in his comeback from back surgery.

"We talked about him possibly playing, and that's what he wanted to talk about,'' Furyk said at Bellerive Country Club, where the PGA Championship begins Thursday. "He knew then that he was on the mend, that he was starting to feel better and had a plan in place for this year.

"And that was probably a sign that I should have picked up on a lot quicker. I know that Tiger always wanted to compete, and he's been moving up the points this year which has been fun to watch.''

Woods was unable to earn any Ryder Cup points in 2017 -- the majors, the World Golf Championship events and the Players Championship gave points -- so getting to 20th in the standings heading into the PGA Championship is an impressive accomplishment.

The top eight players in the points after the PGA automatically qualify for the team; Woods, who has won the PGA four times, can only earn enough points to qualify with a victory.

But he is clearly being considered for one of the four at-large picks -- many believing it is a foregone conclusion. Furyk will make three of his picks on Sept. 4, following the second FedEx Cup playoff event, the Dell Technologies Championship. Six days later, he will add the final player following the BMW Championship.

"I think he's got a good case,'' said Love, who will assistant Furyk this year along with Woods and Stricker. "I think there's a list of points per start, and he's done really well in that. He's got a lot of top-10s.

"I go back to the way I looked at it, if I was a captain (he did so twice), you're looking to make pairings, and everybody on the team wants to play with Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods or some veteran player who has done it a lot. So I think he's an easy pick from that regard. If I were on the other (European) side, I wouldn't want him picked, so that's another good reason.''

As it stands now, the top eight are: Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson.

Bryson DeChambeau, Mickelson, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau hold the ninth through 13th spots. It is interesting that Furyk is grouped for the first two rounds with Schauffele and Finau at the PGA.

"I did not ask for that pairing,'' Furyk said. "I think it's a great pairing for me; it probably isn't that best pairing for them.''

Of the current top eight, only Thomas has never played in a Ryder Cup and Koepka has never played in a road Ryder Cup.

DeChambeau, Schauffele and Finau have never played in either the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup. And the U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 -- when the then 29-year-old Love secured the winning point with a 1-up victory over Italy's Costantino Rocca.

Woods, as a vice captain, would recuse himself from any discussions about his viability as a player, Furyk said.

When asked about his own prospects, Woods has been coy.

"I like my chances in match play,'' Woods said of the format used for the Ryder Cup. "We'll see. I've gone from zero to basically 20th in seven months. As I said last week, I'm trending."