News & Opinion

Star power makes Presidents Cup matter again

In picking himself to play, U.S. captain Tiger Woods assures biennial series' relevance. Next, Rickie Fowler might be called upon to add some pizzazz

The Presidents Cup is now relevant, and Jay Monahan’s mind is joyfully turning cartwheels. All because U.S. captain Tiger Woods said these words:

“As captain, I’m going to choose Tiger Woods as the last player on the team.” That semi-bizarre reference to himself in the third person on Thursday night saved the event (“Woods plays it perfectly with Presidents Cup picks,” Nov. 7).

It had to thrill Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, along with the executives at NBC/Golf Channel, which will be televising the Presidents Cup. And it wouldn’t be a big surprise to know that NBC was in the ear of Monahan, who was in the ear of Woods before the prime-time announcement of the captain’s picks.

Without Woods competing as a player, the Presidents Cup, which will be played Dec. 12-15 in Melbourne, Australia, would risk becoming impossibly lost in the wasteland of late-night live telecasts and next-day re-airs when fans already know the outcome of the previous day’s matches.

Tiger Woods (right) could be extending a hand to Rickie Fowler (left) soon, should injured Brooks Koepka not be able to play in the Presidents Cup.

But with Woods teeing it up along with his role as captain, TV ratings likely double or better. That makes everybody happy, including International captain Ernie Els and the players from both teams. When Woods plays, golf – no matter where or in what format – is better off.

From a competitive tactical perspective, does Woods’ self-pick make sense? Actually, it does. Woods is completely healed from a minor knee surgery in October, and those close to him say that it has made all the difference in his swing. That’s evidenced by his recent victory in the Zozo Championship in Japan, which undoubtedly tipped things over the top with respect to Woods as a captain’s pick.

However, he still has an unpredictable back, and who knows what the effects will be after a plane ride of more than 20 hours to Australia. Even if he is completely healthy, it’s highly unlikely that Woods will play in more than three matches during the four-day event. He probably will play four-ball twice and in the Sunday singles.

His four-ball partner might be Patrick Reed, who was a surprise captain’s pick, given his performance in last year’s Ryder Cup in Paris with Woods as a partner. The pair proved to be abysmal, going 0-2-0 together, and Woods, if nothing else, has a long memory. But Woods publicly praised Reed as someone whom he thought he had to have on this team.

Or, Woods could pair with captain’s pick Tony Finau, who went 2-1-0 in Paris, one of only four Americans with a winning record in the seven-point loss to the Europeans. Gary Woodland, the current U.S. Open champion, was the fourth pick. Woodland finished third in the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges and fifth at the Zozo Championship.

The glaring omission is Rickie Fowler, who had a victory, a runner-up and four other top-10s in the 2018-19 season but finished 11th on the Presidents Cup points list, one spot ahead of Reed. However, Fowler still has a good shot at being chosen for this team because Brooks Koepka is nursing an injured left knee, which he sustained at the CJ Cup, prompting his withdrawal.

Woods said he would take a wait-and-see approach with Koepka, but insiders already are suggesting that Koepka probably will take a pass on the Presidents Cup to make sure that his knee is fully healed to start 2020.

Els is leading a youthful and relatively inexperienced team for Royal Melbourne, and his picks were a mix of rookies and veterans. Jason Day, who was ninth on the International points list, was an automatic pick for Els.

This is Day’s fifth consecutive Presidents Cup. Although Day had a year without a win, failing to make the top 50 in FedEx Cup points, Els had to pick him, because there will be six first-timers on the International team.

From there, Els tried to choose players with some kind of current form. Adam Hadwin of Canada will appear in his second Presidents Cup, along with rookies Sungjae Im of South Korea and Joaquin Niemann of Chile.

Hadwin, who was 0-2-1 two years ago at Liberty National, cemented his pick with a runner-up at the Safeway Open in late September and a T-4 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open the following week.

Niemann, who turned 21 on Nov. 7, won at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in September for his first PGA Tour victory. Niemann, who was a rookie on the PGA Tour at age 19, is one of the game’s most highly-regarded young players.

The 21-year-old Im, who was 11th on the International points list, is the most consistent player of all of the captain’s picks. Im was the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and was runner-up at the Sanderson Farms Championship in September and T-3 at the Zozo Championship.

Regardless, Els will bring a highly undermanned, underdog team to Australia. The only thing that the Internationals have in their favor is their lone victory in 12 Presidents Cups came at Royal Melbourne in 1998, the same year Im and Niemann were born.