By Martyn Herman
HOYLAKE, England, July 20 (Reuters) - Tiger Woods believes he justifies a place in the United States Ryder Cup team despite missing the year's first two majors through injury and finishing dismally at the British Open on Sunday.
The 14-times major champion is well outside the automatic nine places for the match against holders Europe at Gleneagles in September and may require one of captain Tom Watson's three wildcard selections.
Usually it would be unthinkable that the 38-year-old's place in the biennial match would be in doubt.
However, after back surgery in March he managed only two competitive rounds in the build-up to this week's Open at Hoylake and apart from a flurry of back nine birdies on Thursday when he carded a three-under-par 69, he has looked rusty.
Woods will need to show a marked improvement over the coming weeks to ensure Watson gives him the go-ahead to play in an eighth Ryder Cup match.
Watson hinted this week that the former world number one would need to qualify for next month's FedExCup playoff series in order to secure a place.
"I'd like to win the next two tournaments I'm in. That should take care of that," said Woods whose final three rounds at Royal Liverpool were littered with wild tee shots and uncharacteristic mistakes around the greens.
The American, who carded a fourth-round 75 on Sunday for a six-over total of 294, a figure so far exceeded by only three other players, was adamant that he could be a vital cog in Watson's team.
"I got picked by Corey (Pavin) when we played in Wales in 2010," Woods told reporters after a low-key round during which he shared jokes with playing partner Jason Dufner on the 18th tee.
"I was coming off an injury as well there with my Achilles and I sat out most of the summer. And I felt like I was able to contribute to the team.
"That's all you want as a pick, you want someone who can contribute to the team, whether it's in support or it's in play.
"I did it then and hopefully I can actually earn my way on to this team."
Asked if Watson should pick him, Woods said: "I would say yes. But that's my position, my take on it.
"He's the captain. Obviously it's his decision. He's going to field the best 12 players that he thinks will win the Cup back. And I hope I'm on that team."
Woods began the Open a lowly 72nd on the Ryder Cup points list and 212th on the FedEx points standings with only the top 125 players qualifying for the four-tournament series.
Despite a disappointing return to Hoylake, scene of his third Open win in 2006, Woods said there were some encouraging signs that his form and fitness were returning.
"The fact I was able to play a few weeks ahead of time, and I'm only getting stronger and faster, that's great," he added.
"I just had to get more game time. I think we did the smart thing by not playing too much leading into this event, just want to assess how my back was.
"And where I need to strengthen, how I need to go about it, how to gain my explosiveness again, and all that's come along," said Woods.
"I've got more game time under my belt. Obviously there's a lot of things I need to work on but I haven't been able to work on a lot.
"I was down for three months so I'm just now starting to come back." (Editing by Tony Jimenez)