SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Steve DiMeglio discusses the possible head-to-head showdown that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are currently planning.
WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. — In January, Tiger Woods accepted U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk’s request to be an assistant captain for the upcoming tussle with Europe.
There was a catch, however. Woods, coming off the fourth surgery on his back and just starting his latest comeback, told Furyk he wanted to play.
It seemed like a long shot — no one, not even Tiger, knew what to expect in this comeback. Well, Woods exceeded expectations and now needs to quit his job as an assistant.
As expected, Furyk used three of his four discretionary selections Tuesday to pick Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau. The three — who ranked 11, 10 and nine, respectively in Ryder Cup standings — left little doubt over the course of the year that they deserve to wear the red, white and blue, easing Furyk’s decision. With the selection of Woods, Furyk also named as his vice captains David Duval, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
“Well, at the beginning of the year, that was one of my goals, was to make this team. Deep down, I wanted to make the team. I really wanted to play on it,” Woods said. “Now, I had not started playing golf really yet, but still, it was a goal at the end of the season is to be able to make this team. As the year progressed, I’ve kind of gained some traction, and was somehow able to get some high finishes and lo and behold, I’m a part of this team.
“It’s incredible, it really is, to look back at the start of the year and now to have accomplished a goal like that, to be a part of this team, and now to be a player is just beyond special.”
Woods, 42, who was ranked No. 1,199th last December, has climbed to No. 26 on the strength of five top-6 finishes, including a second in the PGA Championship and a tie for sixth in the British Open.
Mickelson, 48, who has been on the last 23 U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, won the WGC-Mexico Championship and is ranked No. 24 in the world. His immeasurable presence in the team room is well documented.
DeChambeau, 24, a U.S. Amateur and NCAA individual champion who will make his Ryder Cup debut, has won the first two events of the FedExCup Playoffs, joining Vijay Singh as the only players to accomplish the feat. DeChambeau also won the Memorial earlier this year.
“I’ve had a couple tough goes the past couple months, and I think that it’s always about how you respond in situations,” DeChambeau said. “You can be frustrated and disappointed, but that passion is always there, and I think that’s why I was so disappointed and frustrated was the fact that I knew what I could do and I knew the capabilities that I had. …
“It was disappointing to not make the top eight, but I regrouped. This is about the team, and I wanted to be a part of this experience so badly, that I worked twice as hard, and it showed, and it paid off.”
Furyk will make his final pick Monday. This week’s BMW Championship is the final chance for players to impress Furyk. Among the leading contenders for the last pick are Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner.
“We were looking for a number of different things, but players that had a good body of work that had played well this season, players that were in good form and we’re headed over to Europe,” Furyk said. “We’re heading over into foreign soil. It’s going to be an interesting crowd. They are boisterous, I have a lot of respect for them and we are looking for players that we thought would handle that situation well and would thrive, love the challenge ahead of them, and naming these three players, that’s what we’ve done.
“I would have to say I’m extremely happy with the 11 players we have. Got a lot of confidence in those players. I think we have some great chemistry. I think we have some great pairing opportunities. We’ve got some great veteran leadership and we’ve got some youth. It’s a well-rounded team, and we’ll go to work, get set to go.”
Woods, Mickelson and DeChambeau join a formidable octuple who earned their berths as the top 8 qualifiers — world No. 1 Dustin Johnson; No. 2 and reigning U.S. Open and PGA champion Brooks Koepka; No. 3 and reigning FedExCup champion Justin Thomas; No. 9 Rickie Fowler; No. 10 Jordan Spieth, No. 13 Bubba Watson, reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed; and reigning Players champion Webb Simpson.
Europe captain Thomas Bjorn will announce his four picks on Wednesday. The Ryder Cup will played Sept. 28-30 in Paris.
Woods will be playing in his first Ryder Cup since 2012, when he went 0-3-1 as Europe stormed back on the final day for victory. Woods has played in the Ryder Cup seven times, amassing a 13-17-3 record, including 4-1-2 in singles.
Woods was a key factor in the USA’s 17-11 victory in 2016 as an assistant captain, as players gravitated to his wisdom and encouraging words.
Mickelson will be playing in his 12th Ryder Cup. He has an 18-20-7 record, including 5-5-1 in singles.
In his historic career in the Ryder Cup, one thing has been missing for Mickelson — he’s never been on a winning team in Europe. The last time the Americans were victorious on foreign soil was 1993.
“I’m very excited about the team this year. I’m excited to be a part of this team. We have some incredible players, great leadership, and a really special opportunity to do something that we haven’t done in a long time,” Mickelson said. “It’s going to be a great challenge because we know how strong the European side is and how well they play at home, but it’s a wonderful chance, an opportunity for us to do something I haven’t done or been a part of in my career, and would very much like to.”