News & Opinion

Tiger Woods can only watch as U.S. pulls closer

U.S. player-captain sits both sessions as Americans face 2-point deficit entering singles matches in Presidents Cup

MELBOURNE, Australia – What was Tiger thinking?

When you’re the best player at Royal Melbourne this week – no offense to Justin Thomas – it seems highly questionable not only to pick yourself, but not to pick yourself as your team is going down faster than the Titanic.

U.S. captain Tiger Woods (left) and Matt Kuchar watch Saturday at Royal Melbourne as the Americans close the gap against the Internationals in the Presidents Cup.

The Justin Thomas/Woods pairing was responsible for two critical points in the first two days for a USA team that had compiled only 3½ points during the stretch and seemed to be grasping at straws.

When Woods decided to take the time off from playing and opted to captain fulltime on Saturday morning, it was an educated guess that he would be ready to go in the afternoon foursomes. But when Woods named Thomas and Rickie Fowler as an afternoon pairing, it became clear that the captain was taking a pass on the day as a player.

Which comes back to the original question: What was Tiger thinking?

Claiming that it was best for the team, Woods confirmed he wasn’t injured.

What he didn’t explain was how his absence inside the ropes with a club in his hand was a bigger benefit for the team than letting others play in his absence.

Woods cryptically answered a question about whether his assistants, Fred Couples, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker, tried to talk him out of not playing in the afternoon.

“Well, I tried to talk myself out of it, too,” Woods said. “But you know, it is what it is, and we're going to go out there and try and get some points today and be ready for tomorrow.”

What does that mean?

As good as Woods has been as a player in this biennial series, he has been as bad as a captain.

While there is no white flag of surrender hanging outside the U.S. team room after the Americans’ spirited comeback in Saturday afternoon foursomes tightened the Internationals’ lead to 10-8, the mood has to be tenacious, at best. The Big Cat seemingly deserted the team in its hour of need when this event could have been tied going into singles.

Do you have to question Woods’ comment about not being injured?

Is it possible that his soon-to-be 44-year-old body could not take 72 holes in the Bahamas last week, a long plane flight with a refueling delay in Mexico and then windy and cool conditions that have been prevalent here on Australia’s southeast coast?

As usual, when writing about Tiger Woods, there are more questions than answers. Looking at the pairings for the afternoon foursomes, it seems that Woods would have been better than anyone else playing, with the exception of Thomas. Yet, even he hit the worst tee shot possible on the 18th hole in the afternoon, losing a 5-up lead through 10 holes and walking away with a tie.

On Woods’ worst day, I suggest that would not have happened, and a Woods/Thomas match would have ended much sooner, in victory.

Now, what to do if you’re Woods and leading a U.S. squad that turned a soufflé into a flat pastry? Woods watched from the sidelines as the Americans allowed an apparent 4-0 rout in foursomes turn into a 3-1 salvage job by the Internationals.

Woods and International captain Ernie Els will tell you how great the matches were on Saturday afternoon and how excited they are about Sunday’s singles and their respective team’s chances.

But the winner Sunday likely will achieve it by a slim margin. If the margin is a full point or less by the Internationals, you can look back and wonder why Tiger Woods sat on Saturday.

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