• WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

Tiger's Playoff outlet not bright

Kevin Maguire | ESPN.com
July 29, 2014
Tiger Woods is struggling to qualify for both the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Ryder Cup © Getty Images

Tiger Woods owns eight PGA Tour victories at Firestone Country Club, site of this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He might just have to earn a ninth if he doesn't want a forced month-long break after the PGA Championship that would put his Ryder Cup hopes in jeopardy.

That's because Woods picked up all of two FedEx Cup Playoff points with a 69th-place finish at the Open Championship. He's sitting in the 215th spot in the rankings and to qualify for the Playoffs, a player needs to be inside the top 125.

Looking at this year's FedEx Cup Playoff rankings, that last spot belongs to Charlie Beljan with 403 points and three tournaments remaining. Even if the standings remained exactly the same for three weeks - which is extremely unlikely - Woods would need, at a bare minimum, 359 more points to get a tee time in the first Playoff event at The Barclays on August 21.

That will be no small task considering he typically plays only at Firestone and then the PGA Championship - which will be held at Valhalla Golf Club, site of Woods' 2000 PGA Championship victory.

If he doesn't get inside the top 125 after the PGA, what's next?

Well, Woods has never played the last regular-season tournament, the Wyndham Championship, as a professional. But would he alter his plans and play in the North Carolina event to show US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson he's fit for the matches in late September?

If Woods fails to make the Playoffs, that would put Watson in the unenviable position of potentially using one of his three at-large selections on the former world No.1 despite the fact that Woods missed nearly four months this season after undergoing back surgery and would not play a PGA Tour event between mid-August and late September.

With Phil Mickelson also sitting outside the top nine - he's No.11 following the Canadian Open - one would have to think Lefty would get the nod for a captain's pick, leaving Watson with even fewer choices to fill out his team.

Coming into this week, Woods has 45 FedEx Cup points. That means he needs some combination of at least 358 points just to squeak into the field at The Barclays. A victory at the WGC-Bridgestone or the PGA Championship should get him a tee time at Ridgewood Country Club. Without a win, though, things get murky.

There are many permutations as to what could happen the next few weeks. For example, say Woods finishes solo 10th in Akron; that'd be good for 78 points, which would leave him 280 shy of the 403-point mark. He likely would need a second-place finish at the PGA Championship - worth 330 points - to make the Playoffs.

To put things into perspective, Woods' best finish on the PGA Tour in 2014 is a tied-25th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in March. That came pre-surgery, when Woods was feeling the effects of his aching back so much that he withdrew the week before Doral at the Honda Classic.

Even a pair of top-3 finishes in Woods' next two PGA Tour starts might not be enough to take a heavy weight off Watson's shoulders.

Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com

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