The PGA Championship could turn out to be a boon for both the FedEx and Presidents cups.
Tiger Woods’ frustrating near miss at Hazeltine is likely to leave the world No. 1 hungry to finish the season in style in the FedEx Cup playoffs. If Woods had won the Wanamaker Trophy, the FedEx Cup would have been relegated to afterthought status for Woods. Instead, a disappointed Tiger enters the playoffs thinking sweep.
When your resume includes 70 PGA Tour titles and 14 majors, there’s no pressure for redemption. But Woods relishes a challenge more than any other athlete on the planet. And there would be no better response for his first blown major save than for Woods to consummate his comeback season by sweeping to four straight victories (Barclays, Deutsche Bank, BMW and Tour Championship) and a runaway FedEx Cup title.
Woods likely already has cemented player of the year honors, but such a closing tear would have the 33-year-old finish the season with nine victories, passing Jack Nicklaus on the all-time victory list at the Tour Championship and reducing his major shutout to fluke status. It also would treble the Grand Slam chatter heading into next season, when the major venues (Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits) are aligned for what will be Tiger’s most realistic bid at immortality.
If predicting Tiger’s response to the happenings at Hazeltine involves serious conjecture, there’s no doubt Y.E. Yang’s breakout victory at the PGA Championship adds some much-needed juice to the Presidents Cup. The 37-year-old Yang jumped from 36th to ninth in the International standings, automatically qualifying for the event in October.
“I think the victory of Y.E. Yang over Tiger Woods is absolutely phenomenal,” International captain Greg Norman said. “I think it was great for the game of golf and obviously great for the International team and the Presidents Cup.”
Not only does Yang’s victory give Norman another hot player with a soaring reputation, but it also gives the International team an Asian presence to boost the event’s interest and ratings in the Far East.
Yang’s victory also bumped universally unpopular South African Rory Sabbatini out of an automatic slot and eased the pressure on Norman’s upcoming wild-card choices. Both captains will round out their rosters with two picks Sept. 8, and K.J. Choi now seems like an obvious choice to partner Yang.
“You look at K.J. Choi, who I think is a great clutch player,” Norman said of the 39-year-old South Korean, who finished 18th in the International standings, boasts two Presidents Cup appearances and is close friends with Yang. “His track record in the Presidents Cup is very good.”
Though Adam Scott is in the midst of a miserable season (eight missed cuts in 16 starts), Norman clearly hopes his Aussie understudy shows some signs of life over the next several weeks. Scott finished 14th in the International standings, owns a solid 7-6-1 record in the Presidents Cup and demonstrated his commitment to making the team by entering this week’s field in Greensboro in hopes of turning around his game.
“I’m very, very happy that [Scott] decided to play this week in a PGA Tour event in Greensboro,” Norman said. “I think that’s good for him. There’s no better way of coming out of a slump than working your way out of a slump. It doesn’t just happen. … He has time ahead of him. He’s doing to play a few golf tournaments up to Sept. 8. I will be monitoring him and looking at the stats and seeing if he’s getting a bit more comfortable on the greens.”
For Fred Couples, who will lead the Americans against the Internationals at Harding Park Golf Course (San Francisco), the PGA Championship only reaffirmed his wild-card leanings. The affable Couples already has said Hunter Mahan would make his squad; the 27-year-old grinder finished 13th in the U.S. standings, capping a run of six finishes in the top 16 in his last seven starts with a tie for 16th at Hazeltine. U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, who finished 11th in the standings, probably locked up the other selection by tying for fifth at the PGA Championship. Unless No. 12 Brian Gay puts together a streak in the FedEx playoffs that forces Couples to choose him, the U.S. squad is set.
Phil Mickelson is the only true wild card on the likely U.S. roster. Lefty is an automatic qualifier but could pull out of the Presidents Cup if either his wife, Amy, or mother experiences a health setback over the next six weeks.
“I believe in my heart Phil going to play, so we want him there. We want Amy there,” Couples said. “If he’s listening to this, I don’t think I’m saying anything wrong, I’m counting on him being there, and I think he wants to be there.”