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, three 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 five starts this season, Woods has missed the cut once (Genesis Open), finished T23 (Torrey Pines), T2 (Valspar Championship) and T5 (Bay Hill).
In the process, he's been collecting valuable Ryder Cup points and -- as of March 26 -- he was No. 27 in the USA standings with 1,121.685 points. That's just 2,550.023 points behind Brian Harman, 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.
Clearly, the Masters presents a huge opportunity. Unlike past years, rather than players receiving double points (or two points for every $1,000 earned), only the winner does in 2018. Everyone else receives 1.5 points per every $1,000 earned at Augusta National and the other three majors.
With Tiger's current form and history at Augusta National -- four wins and 11 top-5 finishes overall -- is it really unrealistic to consider him a favorite? Sure -- he hasn't won a major since his 14th overall at the 2008 U.S. Open. But, he's been darn close at the Masters since then.
In six starts at Augusta National since the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods has the following results: T6, T4, T4, T40, T4, T17.
Let's first look at a scenario where Woods wins the Masters. Since the Masters purse isn't announced until tournament week, we'll use last year's numbers.
For his victory in 2017, Sergio Garcia collected $1.98 million. If that were the winner's share for 2018, it would equal 3,960 points for a U.S.-born winner (1,980 points -- or 1 point for every thousand earned -- times 2 for the double points awarded to the winner).
If Tiger were to win, that would put him at 5,081.685 points. As things stand right now, that would have Tiger in the No. 2 spot on the U.S. points list behind only Justin Thomas at No. 1 with 5,794.023 points.
But a win is over the top, you say.
Let's pencil Tiger in for a T4 finish -- something he's done in three of the last five Masters' he's played in.
At the 2017 Masters, Matt Kuchar and Thomas Pieters tied for fourth and came away with $484,000 each. Hypothetically, if everything remained the same in 2018, that would equal 726 Ryder Cup USA points (484 points -- 1 point for every thousand earned -- times 1.5 for the 1.5 awarded to everyone who makes the cut except the winner).
In that scenario, Woods would jump up to 1,847.685 points. Presently, that would be good for the No. 13 spot in the standings.
OK, suppose none of that pans out at the Masters. Remember, he's got three more majors where all those scenarios are in play.
In two U.S. Opens at Shinnecock Hills -- the 2018 venue -- Woods withdrew as an amateur in 1995 and tied for 17th in 2004.
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.
We don't expect that he'll equal that feat in 2018 -- we can't. Right? Right? Maybe?
Suppose he won at the Players like he did in 2013. If the winner's share were the same as Si Woo Kim's $1,890,000 a year ago, that'd be another 1,890 points for Woods.
Or what about a win at Firestone in the Bridgestone Invitational -- a place he's won eight times in his career, including 2013? Hideki Matsuyama's winner's share in 2017 was $1,660,000. That'd be another 1,660 points for Woods.
There are a number of ways Woods can play his way onto the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team.
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.