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Even a healthy Tiger will have to play his way onto Ryder Cup team

By Keely Levins

With the Ryder Cup slowly approaching, U.S. captain Tom Watson was recently asked how his preparations were going for the September matches. Perhaps inevitably, his response veered toward a certain sidelined American golfer and his prospects for playing at Gleneagles.

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"The biggest surprise -- the most disheartening surprise -- is Tiger's injury," Watson said during a teleconference Thursday in which he was promoting the introduction of his new DVD instructional series.

Watson continued: "I want Tiger on the team. And I hope that he can recover from that injury and make it on the team and start playing well enough to get on the team."

Of course, Watson would prefer to have Tiger playing for him. The list of reasons why an injury-free Tiger is an asset for the American squad is long, starting with the fact he's still the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world.

At the risk of reading too far between the lines, however, Watson's wording hinted that even if Woods was healthy enough to compete, he wasn't a lock to play.

Read again: Watson hoped Tiger could "make it" on the team and perform well enough "to get on" the squad. Neither, of course, is necessary given that as captain Watson can simply pick Tiger for the lineup. Nevertheless, Watson said it in this fashion.

Truth be told, the need for Watson to see Tiger play his way onto the team is completely legitimate given the current situation and is actually a sign of being a smart captain. You're not always the same after an injury, particularly after the type of back surgery that Tiger underwent. And it can take time to find a swing that will work after being laid off for a while.

There's too much uncertainty right now for Watson to say definitively that Tiger will play if healthy. Luckily, the captain has got a few more months to figure that out.