T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
How Tiger makes the Ryder Cup team
There will be plenty of questions as Tiger Woods returns to golf for the first time since the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump Doral.
We'll add to that list.
Now that he's back, the plot thickens in terms of the possibility of Woods being a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team in September. So what does Tiger have to do to qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup Team?
Let's break it down.
Woods will either need to finish inside the top 9 of the U.S. points standings at the conclusion of the PGA Championship, or he'll have to rely on one of Captain Tom Watson's three picks.
WHERE HE STANDS NOW: Woods is currently No. 67 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup team standings with 763.542 points. That's a whopping 2,368.49 points behind Patrick Reed, who currently occupies the ninth and final automatic spot.
THE MAGIC NUMBER: 4,637 points. At least that's the magic number according to PGA President Ted Bishop, who Captain Tom Watson is calling his "stats guru."
In a Captain's blog earlier this year, Watson wrote: "Ted Bishop, the President of the PGA, is our statistician and he's calculated it's going to take 4,637 points to be in the top 9 to get on the team. Who knows what the points are going to be but nobody's really gotten up to that level. I trust that Ted's pretty accurate as far as what that point level's going to be to make the team."
Note: Four players have already eclipsed this total. Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
WHERE WILL TIGER PLAY?: Even in his return, it's only likely that Woods -- provided there are no setbacks -- will play in just four events between now and when points close.
However, points are worth double at the majors, in which we anticipate Woods will play in two.
Here is the projected, educated guess (based on history and results) at Tiger's likely schedule through the PGA Championship.
- Quicken Loans National, June 25-29, Congressional CC
Though we shouldn't expect a whole lot from Woods in his first competitive rounds since returning, don't be shocked if he plays well either. Woods won at the course in 2009 and again in 2012. Aside from being the host of the tournament, a return here makes sense for Woods because of his comfort level with the course. POINTS: A 25th-place finish here would earn Tiger roughly 65 points, give or take, depending on ties. A win would earn him 1,170 points.
- Open Championship, July 17-20, Royal Liverpool
Many thought this is where Woods would make his return -- even though returning at a major seems a bit crazy. Woods put on a clinic at this venue in 2006. He finished at 18-under par, two clear of runner-up Chris DiMarco, and captured his 11th major title overall. The win was his second consecutive Open Championship title and third overall. It was also Woods' first major tournament win since the death of his father, Earl Woods, that May. Woods lives for the majors. He's four away from matching the record of 18 held by Jack Nicklaus and you can bet it stings Woods to have already missed the first two this year. He practically hit irons all week at Royal Liverpool in 2006, and we can probably expect much of the same this time around. POINTS: A 25th-place finish here would earn Tiger roughly 120 points depending on ties. A win would earn him just shy of 2,900 points.
- World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, July 31-August 3, Firestone CC
Woods will have had a healthy two-week break after the Open Championship before this event. And, again, he's got to love the venue. He's won at Firestone eight times in his career. This year, he's again the defending champion. POINTS: A 25th-place finish here would earn Tiger roughly 75 points depending on ties. A win would earn him 1,530.
- PGA Championship, August 7-10, Valhalla GC
The season's final major -- and final opportunity to accumulate Ryder Cup points -- comes at a place where Woods has been victorious in the past. He won a playoff over Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla -- his third consecutive major win at the time and the third leg of the "Tiger Slam," which consisted of the 2000 U.S. Open, Open Championship, PGA Championship and 2001 Masters. POINTS: A 25th-place finish here would earn Tiger roughly 120 points depending on ties. A win would earn him just shy of 2,900 points.
CAN WOODS MAKE IT ON POINTS?: Who's going to tell Tiger Woods he can't do something? Of course he could make it on points, but it isn't likely. A win at one of the remaining majors will be worth just shy of 2,900 points. That coupled with a top 10 in the other major and a second-place finish at Quicken Loans or WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and he's well on his way to Bishop's estimated total. Even if he doesn't win one of those majors, a strong finish will go a long way in the standings. For instance, if Woods were to finish 25th this week, 10th in the two majors and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, he'd accumulate approximately 920 points to move to approximately 1,683 points which would be 31st on the current list. To make the team on points, however, Woods is going to need to win at least one major and have a very high finish in the other.
IF HE DOESN'T MAKE IT ON POINTS, WILL HE BE A CAPTAIN'S PICK?: The only time in his career that Tiger Woods has been a Captain's pick came in 2010. Then Captain Corey Pavin took Woods, who didn't make his first start of the 2010 season until the Masters after recovering from knee surgery at the end of 2009.
If Woods doesn't make the team on points, but is inside the top 20 of the standings, it's hard to imagine Watson not giving him a good, hard look. After all, he's Tiger Woods.
However, if he's outside of the top 20 come August 10, I believe Woods will have to show Watson he wants to be on the team. What does that mean? Well, a couple of things. If Woods has played well enough to make the FedExCup Playoffs, then get a high finish in the Barclays or the Deutsche Bank Championship (the last tournament before Watson makes his picks in September).
If Woods is projected to be out of the playoffs before the start of the PGA Championship, he might want to think about committing to the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., the following week. That's certainly not likely, but if Woods were to make that commitment, it would clearly say, "I'm playing because I want to be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team."
CONCLUSION: Woods has a steep hill to climb if he's going to make the team on points. If at the end of the PGA Championship he's inside the top 20 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings though, I can't envision a scenario -- unless he's hurt -- where Captain Watson doesn't add him to the team.
Making it on points? It's not impossible, but it's also not likely. My guess is Woods will need to prove to Watson he's worthy of a pick.