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Tiger Woods’ withdrawal will make US Ryder Cup team a stronger outfit at Gleneagles

“I’ve been told by my doctors that my back muscles need to be healed,” Woods said. “They’ve advised me not to play.”

All of which rather begs the question of what on earth he was doing in Valhalla last week.

Why rush his comeback from the surgery that he described in Hoylake as his salvation, his relief from perpetual, searing lumbar pain? It took another PGA Tour player, Canada’s Graham DeLaet, an entire year to return from exactly the same procedure, a microdiscectomy on a pinched nerve.

Other patients who undergo the treatment are advised never to play golf again. But Tiger, resolving that he was well, different, emerged after barely three months with an unshakeable conviction that he could be an instant post-operative major champion.

The plan has backfired. So overwhelming is Woods’s obsession with beating Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles that it appears even to be occluding his better judgment about his health.

The only hope after this last sorry month in his great career is that he has not, by his sheer cussedness, done himself irreversible damage.

His agent, Mark Steinberg, offered a positive signal, saying: “The good news is that the residual effect of him playing the last few months has been muscular, and not directly related to the surgery that was done.”

So, the Ryder Cup can wait. To be frank, it always could. Woods has never looked like a player deeply immersed in the competition’s significance, and it is an attitude borne out by his lamentable record on this stage.

His 17 defeats are more than Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer suffered between them, while at Medinah two years ago, he and Steve Stricker looked like utter strangers with three losses out of three.

Steinberg argued strongly that representing his country did still matter to Woods. But it is a moot point as to whether it matters even half as much as the majors.

It is in this arena where he can still cement his immortality, not in a matchplay format to which he has often looked painfully maladjusted, failing to gel with a succession of partners.

Only his singles record, with four wins out of seven, holds up to scrutiny, yet in fourballs and foursomes he has lost an extraordinary 16 of 26.

At last, without the Woods question to fret over, Watson can start acting like a captain rather than a cipher for conjecture about a player in the worst form of his professional life.

There was a preposterous situation at Valhalla last week, where Watson dithered in his press conference over a potential Woods call-up, offering as his only justification for doing so: “He’s Tiger Woods.”

Reputation alone is not enough in so unforgiving a crucible as the Ryder Cup.

A team that in effect makes its leader subservient to its star is doomed from the outset.

On the stark facts, it should never have been a difficult decision for Watson to omit Woods, but the captain will be grateful to have been spared a potentially giant diplomatic imbroglio when he announces his wildcards at the New York Stock Exchange on September 2.

The news could even unite the Americans more strongly. For history teaches us well enough that in Ryder Cups, the bald eagle can still soar without a wounded Tiger.

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