The top eight spots on the U.S. roster will be locked up after this week's PGA Championship, and captain Corey Pavin will have another three weeks to pick the final four players for a team that, any way you slice it, will be massive underdogs in October.
One thing should be growing more certain to Pavin right now: If Tiger Woods does not automatically qualify, he should NOT waste a captain's pick on the soon-to-be-ex-No. 1 golfer in the world. The U.S. doesn't want Woods, his baggage or his putter anywhere near Wales.
Give me Hunter Mahan, Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson or any of a hundred hungrier Americans any day over the sleeping Tiger.
Pavin said he plans to meet with Woods this week at Whistling Straits to "gauge his interest" in participating in the Ryder Cup. Why bother? Woods' interest has never been stirred by these team events that he has privately considered an intrusive obligation on his time and talent.
Woods wisely never says anything publicly about his distaste for what he considers an over-hyped exhibition with no upside or financial benefits. But he never goes out of his way to sound excited about the biennial affair either.
In a news conference before this week's WGC event at Firestone, Woods gave the same robotic response to three successive questions trying to ferret out his enthusiasm for being a captain's pick if necessary.
"I'm planning on playing my way into the team," he repeated.
That arrogance-masked-as-humor was easier to stomach when Woods could back it up with his clubs. Now that he seems incapable at the moment of summoning up greatness by the sheer force of his will, he could have simply said, "I plan to play my way on, but if I don't I hope my captain understands that I want to be there and help the U.S. retain the cup in any way I can."
Woods can't even fake it. When later asked if Pavin even needed to meet with him, Woods went back to the well.
"I think if I do well this week, I should sew up my spot," he said.
Woods did not do well this week as his pattern of decline continues as his personal life hurtles toward a reported divorce. On a course he has all but owned with a record seven career victories including last year, Woods would have missed the cut if they had one in an event he's never finished worse than fourth in 11 prior starts. He failed to sniff par in the first three rounds and sits alone at 78th in an 80-man field at 11-over. He hasn't broken par since the first round of the British Open.
Barring a Stuart Appleby-like closing kick today, Woods won't be moving into the top eight this week. That leaves only the PGA to make his hay, and it goes to a faux links layout that didn't seem to suit Woods the last time he played there in 2004, tying for 24th.
If he doesn't play his way in as he planned, what next? At 111th in the PGA Tour's season-long points standings, Woods is currently only eligible for the first of the "playoff" series events which will be held at a course he's never seen.
Would Woods actually consider playing the week after the PGA in Greensboro to improve his standing for both the playoffs and Pavin's picking process? The PGA will be his ninth start of the season, so he can't claim fatigue as an excuse for skipping an event he's always considered beneath his perch.
Woods might be incredibly fresh by the time the Ryder Cup gets here the first week in October, but Pavin should not be fooled into reflexively taking him out of fear. For all Woods did posting a perfect record in last year's Presidents Cup, he's never been the kind of team leader against the Europeans that his lofty standing would seem to indicate.
The unheralded Americans did just fine without him last time at Valhalla, bonding under captain Paul Azinger to end a drought that dated back to 1999. Pavin might have to do the same with an even less qualified roster against a European team so stacked that Colin Montgomerie could eliminate continental Europe entirely and still be an overwhelming favorite.
Pavin is likely to have four Ryder Cup rookies among his automatic qualifiers. You can bet that he'll want to add some experience with his wild cards, making Mahan and Stewart Cink the most obvious choices to help nurture a couple more cubs in the Welsh wilderness.
Unless classic Tiger suddenly resurfaces out of nowhere, the captain should not look to him for inspiration and leadership. It's not an easy call for an American captain to make, though Woods is making it easier every time he plays.
If he can't putt and can't hit a fairway, how is he going to help Jeff Overton win an alternate shot match?
"I want to have the No. 1 player on the team," Pavin said in a recent interview, echoing Woods' rote confidence that he'd make it in on points.
The way things are going, Pavin may get his wish. But that No. 1 player might be Phil Mickelson.
Woods hasn't been that guy for awhile, and this Tiger doesn't deserve to be on this Ryder Cup team.