Will he or won’t he? Not only is that the question, it’s the lone promotional tool capable of turning December’s Presidents Cup into something other than a remedy for holiday-season insomnia. When U.S. skipper Tiger Woods coyly suggested last week that he’d use one of his four captain’s picks on himself for the upcoming matches, the smell of burning wood could be detected throughout golf’s media universe, which is rarely cited as a source of global warming.
Even the Washington Post jumped into the fire, sneaking a piece on the topic into its glut of articles about the woebegone Redskins. Perhaps Woods simply was having a bit of fun when he referred to himself as “U.S. Team
Captain Playing Captain” on his latest Prez Cup blog entry. Maybe he was taking on some heavy lifting for the public-relations department, which makes sense, given that the upcoming bout will be held in Australia against what is likely to be the weakest International squad ever assembled, which is saying something.
One can only imagine how a recent conference call regarding Woods’ role as a competitor might have gone.
PGA Tour: Um, Tiger, we really need you to play at Royal Melbourne. We’re talking about another $4.5 million in potential ad revenue if you bring the sticks.
TW: What about my back?
NBC: Hey, partner, you’ll be playing the week before [at the Hero World Challenge], anyway. Why not throw a little lidocaine in the bag and do all your friends at 30 Rock a favor? It’ll be Christmastime, you know.
TW: What about my knee?
PGA Tour: Torrey Pines isn’t until late January. You’ll have, like, six weeks to rest up. Oh, and need we remind you that we signed off on that $2 million appearance grab you’ll be fetching in Japan next month?
TW: What about my team?
NBC: Good golly, stud. It’s the Internationals! We could send a Korn Ferry troop down there and win by seven! You ain’t doing anybody much good sitting in a cart with a walkie-talkie! Think of all those little Aussies who never would get the chance to see the Great Tiger Woods in action.... You really wanna break 30,000 hearts?
Seriously, this is not a complicated matter. Woods is going to play because the Presidents Cup is a contrived and meaningless event ostensibly designed to promote the Tour brand on a worldwide basis. The U.S. has lost just one of the 12 biennial meetings, so there isn’t exactly a ton of competitive equilibrium here. You want drama? Try one of those afternoon soap operas. As lousy as the Yanks have been in the Ryder Cup, the series with the Internationals has become pro golf’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals.
What will be interesting is who gets left out after Woods puts himself in. The skipper finished 13th in the Prez Cup standings, right behind his buddy Patrick Reed. The eight qualifiers already have been determined. Tony Finau, Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler occupy spots 9 through 11, respectively; nobody behind Woods is worthy of serious consideration.
Do you leave behind Reed, the self-consecrated Captain America who performed so miserably at last September’s Ryder Cup and had just one high finish all year before winning the first FedEx Cup playoff event? Hey, at least Woodland and Fowler won tournaments in 2019, which is more than Finau can say. From this vantage point, it comes down to a decision between the two bombers. Either Finau or Woodland won’t make the trip.
Fowler seems to live a charmed life when it comes to team play, and he’s a terrific putter. Fat Cat Pat is a blowhard and a finger pointer, as evidenced after the shellacking in France, but you could make a case that he’s worth the trouble. Reed has this annoying habit of coming up big when big is really needed. Besides, he did win a top-shelf, full-field event last month in New Jersey.
Personally, I hope Woods takes Woodland along because this might be his only chance to represent his country at such a gathering. He’s done next to nothing since his stellar U.S. Open triumph, but it’s not as if Woods himself has been burning down the house since winning the Masters. Woodland is a great guy who would fit in well amid the team format, which isn’t to say Finau is a creep; he’s anything but.
The Big Kansan ranked fifth on the Tour in birdies per round last year and finished second in overall driving. Woodland is very long, reliably accurate and extremely low maintenance, all of which amounts to a handful of face cards at a low-stakes poker table. There’s certainly a decent chance that Captain Woods will pass on Reed, based on the simple fact that he finished behind Finau and Woodland in the standings. And because his presence really isn’t needed Down Under.
This group of Internationals is as thin, green and unproven as a roster gets. Jason Day, arguably the most decorated player of the bunch, has fallen to 23rd in the Official World Golf Ranking and failed to make the team as a qualifier. He’ll get one of Ernie Els’ picks because he’s an Australian, and because just two other Internationals (Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen) are ranked higher than 23rd, but that is neither here nor there at this point.
All that matters is whether Woods plays. I’m fairly certain that the Peacock and Camp Ponte Vedra will make sure he does.
John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org