LOUISVILLE (AFP) - US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson said on Monday that the latest back injury scare for Tiger Woods is not a good sign for his possible selection in the American squad.
A day after Woods withdrew from the final round of the World Golf Championships event at Firestone Country Club with back spasms, Watson was still hopeful the 14-time major winner might yet play in this week's PGA Championship, the last major tournament of the year.
"I would pick Tiger Woods if he's healthy and playing well," Watson said.
"This doesn't bode well right now." "I just hope maybe it's an isolated problem that he can turn around and possibly play this week at the PGA." At the moment, Woods is not healthy and might not be playing at all.
Woods likely needs to win his 15th career major title this week at Valhalla or miss the US PGA season-ending playoffs, which would leave him idle for several weeks coming off the injury before the US squad tries to wrest back the trophy from Europe next month at Gleneagles, Scotland.
That would greatly diminish the desire for Watson to make Woods one of his three captain's choices to be announced on September 2.
Watson, the 64-year-old US legend who won five British Opens, suffered a huge blow last week when Dustin Johnson announced he was taking a leave of absence from golf for the remainder of the year.
While the PGA Tour denied a Golf.com story that Johnson was suspended for testing positive for cocaine, it did not say if it was ready to suspend him before his decision or if there had been a positive drug test.
The website report also said Johnson slept with the wife of another tour player, a fact that could make Johnson a disruptive force in the US locker room anyway.
The Americans are still left with a formidable side for next month's matches as they try to end Europe's dominating run of five wins in the past six meetings, the lone US win coming at Valhalla in 2008.
Masters champion Bubba Watson, 2003 US Open winner Jim Furyk, young star Rickie Fowler plus Jimmy Walker and Matt Kuchar have already clinched spots in the American lineup.
Jason Dufner, who defends his PGA Championship title this week, plus young star Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed are in position to make the team with Phil Mickelson, coming off a season-low round of 62 Sunday, and Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner, are just outside the pace with four more events to accumulate points and make their case for a captain's pick from Watson.
- 'A little fire' for USA -
The US are hungry to avenge the traumatic defeat in 2012 which they led until the final day.
"With the way the last couple have gone, being on the losing side in '10 and then watching the guys come up short on the final day there at Medinah, yeah, it gives us a little fire to get it all together this year," said Fowler.
"I think the biggest thing is kind of get the team together, get everyone on the same page. I know everyone's going to want to win, but bringing the team together is always big.
"Europe is always very strong at team camaraderie. Not that the US doesn't get along, but I feel like we can work on getting the team together a little bit better and see if we can all pull together as a team and bring the Cup home." That could prove to be a difficult task given that European captain Paul McGinley's stalwarts figure to be Rory McIlroy, fresh off a British Open victory for his third major title; Germany's Martin Kaymer, a runaway winner at the US Open in June, and veteran Spaniard Sergio Garcia, a runner-up in his past three events.
England's Justin Rose and Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, both major winners, have spots on the European side now with Welshman Jamie Donaldson, France's Victor Dubuisson, Sweden's Henrik Stenson and Dane Thomas Bjorn leading the chase for now.
Among those in hot pursuit, and topping the contenders for captain's picks, are England's Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and Italy's Francesco Molinari.
Poulter won four matches at the 2012 Ryder Cup, helping spark Europe's record-setting comeback victory.