The easiest part of Tiger Woods’ job as captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team may have been adding himself to the playing roster.
Call it what you want.
A slam dunk.
The right thing.
There probably are people who will quarrel with Woods (above) being a playing captain but those people probably don’t like him as captain either because, well, he’s Tiger.
In this case, Woods belongs on the American playing roster even if it means Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner and Kevin Na, among others, had to be left off. He’s Tiger freaking Woods and he began last week ranked seventh in the world and he’s won three of his past 14 starts including the Masters and, most recently, the Zozo Championship.
One more thing – this Presidents Cup just got a lot more interesting.
Think about this: If you’re at a holiday party while they’re playing the matches in Australia and the hosts are nice enough to turn on the telecast (it’s going to be on in prime time), aren’t you more likely to pay attention if Woods is playing?
It’s not just Joe Golfer who will pay attention. Jim the Tennis Guy will watch Tiger.
This is not about eyeballs on television screens, though. Woods’ goal as captain is to put the best American team on the course at Royal Melbourne and he makes the team better.
Woods said his vice captains, particularly Fred Couples, had been pushing him to play, essentially telling him they already considered him one of the players. He did his best to tell them, “Not so fast”.
“I said ‘Hold on, let me have Japan to feel it and figure it out,’ ” Woods said. “Freddie was ardent, ‘You’re going to be on the team.’ I hadn’t swung a club yet. ‘Let me rehab the knee and see how it goes and I’ll get back to (Couples) after Japan.’
“I got back to him after Japan.”
“I think it brings a lot to the event. I mean, obviously this is our generation’s best player by quite a distance, and people want to see him play wherever he goes.”
The challenge became naming three more players. Tony Finau, Gary Woodland and Patrick Reed were not surprise additions. If there was a question of who the fourth player would be, it seemed to come down between Reed and Fowler.
Woods went with Reed despite his Ryder Cup turmoil last fall, likely because Reed has continued to play throughout the fall while Fowler is in the midst of an 11-week break that included his wedding.
It is a demonstration of the depth of talent Woods had at his disposal in putting his team together.
There also is the possibility Woods will have to add another player, should Brooks Koepka’s knee injury not be fully healed. Woods and Koepka had coffee together last Thursday morning and Woods told the world No. 1 to focus on getting healthy and see where that takes him.
Meanwhile, Woods can focus on how he will fit together his lineup. Under Presidents Cup rules, Woods is required to play only one match before the Sunday singles, giving him flexibility with his role and his health.
Just having him playing in the Presidents Cup is a jolt of juice for the event.
“I think it brings a lot to the event. I mean, obviously this is our generation’s best player by quite a distance, and people want to see him play wherever he goes,” International captain Ernie Els said. “It brings so much to the event. A couple years ago when I was the same age as him, I was also going through a golden period and I might have thought about picking myself, but I'm no Tiger Woods on the golf course. There's nobody that strong.”
Els will bring the youngest International team ever into the Presidents Cup as he tries to change the lopsided nature of the event. Els’ team will have six Presidents Cup rookies.
Els surprised some with his captain’s picks of Jason Day, Sungjae Im, Adam Hadwin and Joaquín Niemann. Day and Im were considered locks while Hadwin and Niemann were not.
Niemann’s victory this fall in A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier thrust the 21-year-old from Chile into the discussion while Hadwin was chosen ahead of three players who had strong résumés. Els cited Hadwin’s success as a member of the 2017 Presidents Cup team as the reason he chose the Canadian.
Els passed on Byeong Hun An, who had three top-14 finishes in the three recent PGA Tour events in Asia. He also left off Corey Conners, who has finished in the top 25 in eight of his past nine events, as well as Branden Grace, who went 5-0 in the Presidents Cup matches four years ago in South Korea.
“From our perspective, I'm really excited by the new blood that's come in, and I'm really excited that we have experience, also, with the new blood, I think it balances the team really well, and it all happened by accident to be honest with you,” Els said.
Ron Green Jr.