News & Opinion

Woods gift-wraps 2019 puzzle for Els

Gifts come in many different shapes and sizes.

For Ernie Els, a present from Tiger Woods was not intended for Els’ 49th birthday, but it nonetheless came at the right time for a 2019 Presidents Cup captain whose International team hasn’t beaten the Americans in the biennial series in 20 years.

The gift: the idea that Woods might be a playing captain for the U.S. team in Australia next year.

“God, I hope so,” Woods said Oct. 16, the day before Els turned 49. “I just looked at the points last night, and I was ninth [he since has dropped to 10th] so I’d be asking the captain for a pick. I really hope to be a playing captain. I really do.”

What was Woods thinking?

Let’s take you back to March 13, when Els and Woods were announced as captains for the match at Royal Melbourne. Woods was asked about the possibility of being a playing captain. The U.S. has not had a playing captain in an international team match since 1994, when 49-year-old Hale Irwin went 2-1-0 as the Americans won the inaugural Presidents Cup, 20-12.

“It's going to be dependent on myself, my assistants and the players, if I happen to get to that point,” Woods said. “That's a bridge that's a long way away from now to be crossing, but if it does come to that point, it won't just be just my decision. It will be a collaborative effort, what is best for the team.”

Really? A collaborative effort?

Is this the same Woods who explained that he was too tired at last month’s Ryder Cup to play well, after he had gone 0-4 as the Americans lost to the Europeans, 17½-10½?

“I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it,” said Woods, who returned to competition in early 2018 after nearly a year off because of back-fusion surgery. “I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf. And then on top of that, deal with the heat, and the fatigue, and loss of weight.”

After getting shut out last month in France, Woods owns a 13-21-3 record in the Ryder Cup. His only winning records – 3-2-0 in 2006 and 3-1-0 in 2010 – were both U.S. losses. In fact, the U.S. has gone 1-7 in Ryder Cups in which Woods competed.

Poor play in the Ryder Cup is more of a pattern for Woods than an exception. He has fared better in the Presidents Cup, compiling a 24-15-1 record for U.S. teams that have gone 7-1 with Woods on them.

Now, Woods, who will be 43 in December, thinks he can handle an international team match as a captain and a player.

In an era in which the captain has many duties and responsibilities, Woods’ desire to handle the head of the U.S. team as a part-time gig seems short-sighted.

Of course, many would say that the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup are two very different competitions. In the Presidents Cup, the U.S. has dominated the biennial matches against the Internationals, holding a 10-1-1 advantage. In the Ryder Cup, the U.S. holds a 26-14-2 overall lead, but Europe has won nine of the past 12.

Last year in the Presidents Cup, the Americans thumped the Internationals, 19-11, at Liberty National in Jersey City, N.J.

However, Royal Melbourne will be set up under Els’ direction for the Dec. 12-15, 2019 matches as the Internationals seek to reverse the series similar to how the Europeans have flipped the Ryder Cup. Woods will face a very different opponent.

Of course, Woods, with his 80 PGA Tour victories, including 14 major championships, is one of golf’s greatest players. But team play has not been his forte.

The irrefutable numbers – his age and his record in these biennial matches – stand as a testament against Woods and his desire for a dual role next year in Australia. He should focus on being a player or a captain, but not both.

Happy birthday, Ernie.

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