News & Opinion

Not your ordinary American in Paris

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods made it safely to Paris.

That news came from his U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Jim Furyk.

The newest golfing sensation dined with the team late Sunday in a restaurant near the Atlanta airport after he won the Tour Championship and then took an uneventful flight with his teammates, arriving in the French capital after noon local time Monday.

It may be far-fetched to call Woods the newest golfing sensation, but if you look at the past 12 months, it’s an apt description of Woods now versus the Woods of the past five years, when his game was in utter disarray because of back issues.

On Feb. 20, Furyk named Woods as one of the U.S. vice captains. At the time, Woods had played in two tournaments in 2018 in his comeback from a fourth back surgery: a T-23 at the Farmers Insurance Open on a Torrey Pines course where he had won eight times, including the 2008 U.S. Open, and a missed cut at the Genesis Open.

So, when Furyk tapped Woods for the Ryder Cup staff during a news conference in Florida, few golf observers could have expected Woods to earn a larger role with the U.S. team that will play Europe at Le Golf National in suburban Paris this week.

As it would turn out, that late-February week at the Honda Classic propelled Woods in his comeback. He finished 12th, but it could have been much better.

Since that week, Woods climbed steadily in the world rankings and Ryder Cup points.

After a tie for second at the Valspar Championship and a T-5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Woods had jumped to No. 105 in the OWGR. He would add a T-11 at the Players Championship to climb to No. 80. With a T-4 at the Quicken Loans National, Woods improved to 67th in the world and 28th on the Ryder Cup points list.

It was the first time that the thought of Woods being something other than a captain’s assistant entered Ryder Cup discussions. After he held the lead on the back nine of the British Open, eventually settling for a T-6, a chorus began to rise for Woods to be a captain’s pick.

No one was more surprised than yours truly of Woods’ amazing comeback. I have been a vocal critic of Woods on the golf course and didn’t think that he could come back from so many years of pain and multiple surgeries to win again, even on the developmental Web.com Tour.

I clearly was wrong, as evidenced by Woods being surrounded at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta on Sunday by thousands of adoring fans who cheered as if he had won a 15th major championship.

In the short span of seven months, Woods has gone from vice captain to captain’s pick and now likely the hottest player on the U.S. team.

Woods’ surge comes at an ideal time for Furyk, who saw poor performances from Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed, who finished in the last four spots in the 30-man field in Atlanta (scores).

“When you look at now, maybe comparing past Ryder Cups to this one, I think what's so special is Tiger has engrained himself in our team atmosphere and became such a big part of the team in 2016 as a vice captain, and then again in 2017 as an assistant captain at the Presidents Cup,” Furyk said. “I think it's special for him now to kind of join these younger players as a teammate.”

Woods has something to prove in the Ryder Cup. His record is 13-17-3, and he has played on only one winning Ryder Cup team in seven appearances, that coming in 1999 when the Americans rallied from four points down in Sunday singles to eke out a victory.

Woods will be asked to do what he usually has been asked to do in this biennial event: lead the U.S. team. His performance will go a long way in determining who will have custody of the Ryder Cup for the next two years.

And since I have been such a vocal detractor of Woods, I’m going to take a different approach and say I think the game he has displayed over the past six months is more than good enough to lead the Americans. The bigger reason why I think Woods will be successful is that he displays a more accepting and genuine attitude.

Woods is a different person. The players, media and fans see it. He is a player who is keenly aware of his past and wants a different future.

Woods is as human as I’ve ever seen him in his 22 years on the PGA Tour, and that can only bode well for a U.S. team that is trying to win overseas for the first time since 1993 at The Belfry in England, when Bryson DeChambeau was only 10 days old.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli