LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The day before the 96th PGA Championship started, Steve Stricker was named a Ryder Cup vice captain by Tom Watson. Two days later, both men were fielding questions about whether Stricker could play his way onto the team.
Those questions came after Stricker shot a second-round 68 Friday at Valhalla Golf Club. At 5 under par, Stricker is tied for ninth, four shots off the lead held by Rory McIlroy. The 47-year-old from Wisconsin has played in the past two Ryder Cups and three overall, putting together a 3-7-1 record. But for two very distinct reasons – Stricker’s good play, and the fact that some of this year’s US hopefuls are battling injuries – the possibility of Stricker trading his vice captain’s duties in order to play isn’t all that far-fetched.
“I would have to do something very special, and that would be either win or maybe finish second,” said Stricker, who came into the week 38th on the US points list. “I’m obviously going to try to do the best I can this weekend, but it hasn’t really crossed my mind as a player, just because I haven’t played that much, and haven’t played all that well this year.”
But would Stricker consider it, should his game put him in the mix?
“I’m just going to help out in any way Tom asks me or anyone asks me to,” Stricker said. “I’ll cherish the moment just being a part of it, in any way, shape, or form, and hopefully I can help out a little bit.”
Watson got a close look at Stricker the first two days. They were paired together, along with European Ryder Cup lock Sergio Garcia, who was at even par after a 72. The US captain said his newly-appointed vice captain could certainly change roles.
“Strick’s got game, and if he should win here, there’d be no question he’d be on the team, rather than a vice captain,” said Watson, who shot 72-73 and missed the cut. “If he runs the tables and happens to win or things like that, I’d be a fool not to consider him.”
Tough time for Tiger
If Friday was the final round of golf on the PGA Tour this season for Tiger Woods, at least he made a birdie on the last hole. That’s not much of a silver lining, but Woods doesn’t have much to hang his hat on in 2014. No tournament finish better than 25th, back surgery in March, and more back problems this week, which factored into his second-round 74. Wincing at times, it was apparent that the injury Woods suffered on Sunday was still giving him problems.
“It was sore. It went out on me on the range. Just had to play through it,” Woods said. “I tried as hard as I could.”
The missed cut means that Woods will not qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which includes the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. What’s up in the air is the possibility of being selected byWatson for the US Ryder Cup team. He would need to be a captain’s pick, and Watson has said two things will be weighed when considering Woods: How’s his health? How’s his game?
“I don’t know,” Woods said, when asked what he would say if Watson inquired about joining the team in Scotland. “He hasn’t called.”
A soggy situation
Bubba Watson shot 72 to safely make the cut at even par, but it wasn’t his play that was generating so much attention on Friday. Television cameras and microphones picked up multiple complaints during the round from Watson, who didn’t seem comfortable playing in the sporadic rain. He had caddie Ted Scott tee up a ball for him, appeared to have trouble with his grips, and uttered an audible expletive after hitting an off-line tee shot.
After the round, perhaps by then aware of all the social-media criticism directed at him, the two-time Masters champion took to Twitter to apologize.
“Sorry for my actions today! Trying to get better as person. Thanks to all who support me,” tweeted Watson.
Early birthday gift for Perry
Kenny Perry is already a part of history at Valhalla, having lost to Mark Brooks in a playoff at the 1996 PGA. He likely won’t win this week – at 1 under, he’s eight shots back and tied for 38th – but playing in front of his fellow Kentuckians, Perry accomplished his goal this week of making the cut.
Not that it was easy.
“I’ve got to execute perfectly just to survive out there. That’s a big golf course. Watching Rory and Bubba behind me, where they were hitting it and comparing it to where I was, they’re playing a different golf course than what I’m playing,” Perry said. “But I’m ecstatic. It’s going to be fun to play the weekend, and play on my birthday (54) on Sunday. That’ll be neat.”
Bradley on the bubble
If Keegan Bradley wants to make his second consecutive US Ryder Cup team, he’ll need to be one of Watson’s three captain’s picks. Bradley, who entered the tournament on the cusp of being an automatic selection – he was 11th, but only the top nine at the conclusion of the PGA earn spots – missed the cut, shooting a second-round 72 to finish at 4 over. Watson’s three picks will be announced on Sept. 2, the day after the Deutsche Bank Championship . . . None of the 20 club professionals made the cut, but Johan Kok came the closest, and had an eventful week. He finished third in the Long Drive Competition, drained an eagle putt from more than 100 feet on the first hole of his first round, then made eagle at the last hole of his second round. Kok went 78-67, and at 3 over missed the cut by two shots . . . Angel Cabrera didn’t get the opportunity to end his streak of three straight PGA Championship rounds of 80 or higher. Cabrera, who opened with 82, withdrew after 12 holes, citing a shoulder injury. He was 4 over on the day . . . Other Friday withdrawals: Ben Crane (back) before the round, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (knee) after eight holes, and Boo Weekley (shoulder), also after eight holes.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.