News & Opinion

Tiger’s easiest move as captain: Pick himself

Without Woods on U.S. team, Presidents Cup could go unnoticed

Tiger Woods, Presidents Cup captain, will be auditioning Tiger Woods, golfer, for a place on the U.S. team when he plays Monday in The Challenge: Japan Skins. Should he make it through the round and reach the clubhouse on his own power, that will be good enough.

If he can stand, he should play in the Presidents Cup. Notwithstanding conventional wisdom and disregarding what we’ve all seen with our own eyes since April, Tiger Woods ought to be a shoo-in choice for Captain Woods.

2019 BMW Championship
Tiger Woods returns to competition next week, beginning Monday in The Challenge: Japan Skins as a prelude to the PGA Tour’s inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan.

The closer we get to the event in Australia this December and the further we get from the heart of the recent golf season, the more obvious it is that the Presidents Cup needs Woods to suit up. The prospect of seeing him play is the only chance that anyone but the most devoted, hard-core golf enthusiasts will even notice that the thing is happening.

Look, the Presidents Cup is an admirable, charming event. Anyone who commuted to Jersey City by boat from Manhattan (cruising past the Statue of Liberty) last time can attest to that. The 2017 edition had enough cachet to bring four U.S. Presidents. But in terms of big-time international team events, it is the NIT to the Ryder Cup’s March Madness.

The Presidents Cup is what the Ryder Cup used to be: traditional, convivial and numbingly one-sided. Therein lies the problem. Years before it became the biggest thing in golf, the Ryder Cup nearly was the deadest thing in golf. Great Britain and Ireland just couldn’t give the Americans a game. Desperate for a lifeline, the perennial losing side took in all of Europe, in 1979. As a result, the losers became competitive, then downright dominant. Grudges developed. And nothing is as good for business as a gnarly grudge.

No such easy fix is in the offing for the Presidents Cup. The world, or “International,” squad, winless since 1998 and often pummeled on the scoreboard, can’t find another world from which to recruit. So, this event has to grab whatever attraction it can find. Enter Tiger Woods.

Forget the notion that his rustiness might sabotage the U.S. team’s chances. The opposition is not exactly Murderers’ Row or Tom Brady’s Patriots. On this American team, Woods does not have to be a hero, just a presence.

Never mind the talk that giving Tiger a free pass onto the roster might demean the match’s reputation. What reputation? Under the best of circumstances, when it is held while the grass still is green in most of the U.S., the Presidents Cup is a niche item. When the NFL season is in the stretch run and the mistletoe-and-eggnog season is heating up, as they say across the bridge from Liberty National, fuhgeddaboudit. The sight of Tiger Woods swinging a club is about the only thing that might catch the casual sports fan’s attention.

No prize money is at stake, so Woods will not be depriving some hungry pro a chance to earn a decent living. No one’s career will be crushed by being left off the squad. Besides, it is completely legitimate to include the reigning Masters champion on any U.S. team.

The question is not whether Woods should choose Woods but whether the player is healthy enough to be picked. We never really know what is going on with Tiger. When he mysteriously didn’t show up for practice the day before the PGA Championship at Bethpage, his agent proclaimed Woods to be “fine.” Then at the U.S. Open, Woods said he had been “in bad shape.”

Before heading over to the British Open, he released a video showing himself working out at 4 a.m. to prepare for the time change. Later, he said he had been worn out from a vacation. Then came the announcement in late August on the Tiger Woods Twitter feed (they come up with the best scoops!) that he had undergone yet another surgery, a fifth on his left knee.

The golfer must convince the captain, during the Skins Game and Zozo Championship, that he can get around the course. If Woods is good to go, it will be good that he goes to the Presidents Cup. It matters that he plays.

“It does because he’s Tiger. I mean, he matters,” Adam Scott told Golf Channel in September. “It’s better when he plays than when he doesn’t, even if he only plays two matches. It’s better for the event if he does. I guess he has to decide if it’s better for his team or not.”

Trust us, it is better for his team. It is better for the sponsors, better for the Presidents Cup brand, better for the PGA Tour, which runs the event. Whatever you might think of the latter organization, you have to feel for the folks there on some level. They run the world’s best tour, which is the heartbeat of American pro golf, yet whenever a really big event comes along, the PGA Tour just has to sit there on the fringe. Sort of like being a guest at a former fiancée’s wedding.

The Tour knows that the Presidents Cup never needs to be as tense and borderline nasty as the Ryder Cup. It does need to be relevant. The Presidents Cup will seriously catch on when the International team wins a few times.

When that might start happening is anyone’s guess. For now, the event can tap into Woods’ drawing power.

He should be one of his own captain’s picks, on one condition: He must make the announcement matter-of-factly and not try a one-person interview as he did when, as host of the AT&T National, he presented the winner’s trophy to himself. A comedian, he is not.