Why Tiger picked Tiger … and 15 other things about the U.S. captain’s picks
November 07, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
U.S. Team Captain's Picks for 2019 Presidents Cup
The picks are in, and Tiger Woods has picked … well, himself, along with Tony Finau, Patrick Reed and Gary Woodland to round out the U.S. Team that Woods will captain next month at the Presidents Cup in Australia.
It’s going to be highly entertaining at Royal Melbourne, especially if Tiger keeps talking about himself in the third person as he did Thursday night when Tiger the captain was citing the merits of Tiger the player.
“He’s made, what, nine Cups and he’s played in Australia twice in the Presidents Cup, so this will be his third appearance as a player,” Woods said before catching himself and chuckling slightly. “I find it interesting talking in the third person.”
Fifteen more things of interest:
• I asked Tiger how the conversation went with assistant captains Fred Couples, Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson concerning himself as a potential captain’s pick. He relayed a story prior to winning The ZOZO Championship in Japan three weeks ago, his only start since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee two months earlier.
“They said, ‘You’re on the team, you’re playing,’” Woods replied. “I said, ‘Hold on, slow your roll. I’m coming off of knee surgery. I don’t know how it’s going to be. Let me have Japan to test it and feel it and figure it out.”
“Freddie was pretty ardent. ‘You’re on the team. Quit being stupid.’ I said, ‘No, hold on. I haven’t swung a club yet. Let me rehab this knee and get it going. Give me Japan and I’ll get back to you.’
“Well, I got back to him after Japan.”
• Tiger’s success in Japan – winning his 82nd PGA TOUR event to tie Sam Snead in the record book – certainly was a big factor. But perhaps just as big was that his body held up after a long journey to Japan. It’s roughly 7,500 miles from Florida to Tokyo.
Tiger realized he could make the trip and find a winning form, and now he hopes to do the same next month on another long trip. The distance from the Bahamas – where he’ll play the Hero World Challenge – to Melbourne is roughly 9,800 miles.
“The long haul to Australia is very much like the one to Japan,” Woods said, “and seeing how my body felt and how I reacted in Japan and how I was able to play, it certainly gives me a lot of confidence that it will hold up over the long haul down to Australia.
• Last year, Woods followed his memorable win at the TOUR Championship by immediately hopping on a plane to Paris to play for the U.S. at the Ryder Cup. He was visibly tired at Le Golf National, and his performance reflected that, as he lost all four of the matches he played, including a 2 and 1 loss to Jon Rahm in Singles.
Now Woods once again will play the week before a team event. But he sees few similarities, and thus, fewer concerns.
“I think the emotional stress and the emotional release of finally winning an event coming back from my back surgery, that took a toll on me a bit,” Woods said about last year.
“So this is a different -- a totally different animal. I'm playing the Hero World Challenge, not a TOUR event, even though we have World Ranking points. It's a very easy week. I do have some duties there that the night, but overall, it's a very easy week. And then our flight down to Oz will be easy -- just long.”
• Tiger said the key to balancing his captain responsibilities with his playing duties will be communication – with his assistants, with his players, asking them questions, putting their minds at ease, making sure everybody knows the schedules for practice, rest, workout, etc.
“Having that direct communication with these guys,” Woods said. “The texts or phone calls have been free flowing, any time, doesn't matter, just shoot me a text. I want that open line of communication.
“There will be no stone unturned, and if you have an issue or a problem, let's talk about it. Let's figure it out.”
• Tiger could limit himself to the minimum of two matches required for each player. One would be with a partner, and the other would be in Sunday Singles. That could help reduce the strain on his body.
Right now, he’s not putting an exact number on it. “If I happen to play more, I have to play more,” he said.
• Speaking of partners, Tiger did say he’s given specific thought to his own partner, having discussed that possibility with his assistants and some of his players. He wouldn’t reveal a specific name, of course.
“It's one of the other 11 players,” he said coyly.
Of those 11 other players, he’s partnered with four of them in either a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup – Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson.
• Here’s an incentive that might push Tiger to play more than two matches: He’ll arrive at Royal Melbourne with 24 matches won in his Presidents Cup career. The record is 26 held by longtime rival/U.S. teammate Phil Mickelson. Tiger can tie Mickelson with two wins, but maybe he finds a way to add a third match to give himself a chance to sit alone atop the record books.
• Speaking of Mickelson, his streak of making every U.S. Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup team ended with Thursday’s announcement. Mickelson had made 24 consecutive teams, including every Presidents Cup. He also saw his streak of 25-plus seasons inside the world top 50 also end recently.
• One potential U.S. pairing might be Woodland, one of the captain’s picks, with automatic qualifier Matt Kuchar. They were partners in 2011 when the won the World Cup for the U.S. That’s the only team event the reigning U.S. Open champ has appeared in. For now, Woodland’s just happy to be on the team. “I’ll play with anybody,” he said.
• Whether Mickelson was one of the five players Tiger called to deliver the bad news of not being a captain’s pick is unclear. The only player Woods identified that he called was Rickie Fowler, who was married this fall and has yet to play since the FedExCup Playoffs.
Fowler has made six U.S. national team appearances, including the last two Presidents Cups.
“That was a tough phone call,” Woods said. “Rickie's a good friend of mine and I've known him for a long time. Kept it short and quick. No reason to make it a lengthy conversation. He's obviously going to be very disappointed by it. I've been on that side. I've been there when the captain didn't choose me, and I get it. It's not easy.
“But Rickie is a hell of a player and he's going to start winning tournaments here. He's fresh off of his new wedding, his bride and honeymoon, and he'll be focused and he'll start winning tournaments.”
• Fowler, though, might be on the short list of players Tiger considers should he need a replacement for Brooks Koepka, who aggravated an injury to his left knee during the Asian Swing.
Woods said he has until Wednesday morning of Presidents Cup week to make a final determination on whether Koepka is ready to play.
“Right now we're just waiting on Brooks’ rehab and playing back to golf and when he'll be ready,” Woods said. “That's open-ended and we'll cross that bridge when we cross it.”
• Speaking of roster adjustments … Because he’s now a playing captain, Woods will need his assistants to take up some of the slack while he’s on the course. Right now, Woods has three assistants, but he has room to add another if he wants.
“It’s nice having that option,” Woods said. “… although we can roll with just the four of us that we have right now.”
Woods’ counterpart, International Team Captain Ernie Els, has four assistants – Geoff Ogilvy, Trevor Immelman, K.J. Choi and Mike Weir.
• Tiger becomes just the second player in Presidents Cup history to become a playing captain. Another American, Hale Irwin, was the first at the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994. Unlike Woods, Irwin qualified without needing a captain’s pick, as he ranked seventh in points to earn an automatic spot.
Irwin played three matches that week at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia. He and partner Loren Roberts beat David Frost and Fulton Allem in Friday Foursomes, 3 and 1. In Saturday Foursomes, Irwin and Jay Haas lost to Frost and Peter Senior, 6 and 6. Then in Sunday Singles in the opening match, Irwin beat Australian Robert Allenby, 1 up.
• Eleven of the 12 players on the U.S. Team are ranked higher in the Official World Golf Ranking than the highest-ranking International player. The only American ranked below an International is Matt Kuchar at No. 22. Adam Scott (17) and Hideki Matsuyama (20) are currently above him. Understatement of the day from Woods: “We’re going to have a pretty solid team.”
• Ages of the U.S. players in 1998, the only time the Americans lost the Presidents Cup: Justin Thomas, 5 years old; Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, 6 years old; Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed, 8 years old; Tony Finau, 9 years old; Webb Simpson, 13 years old; Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland, 14 years old; Matt Kuchar, 20 years old; Tiger Woods, 22 years old.