PRESIDENTS CUP

Tiger Woods says his Zozo Championship win was the validation he needed to become a playing captain

By Dave Shedloski  

Tiger Woods. Photo by Golffile

Tiger Woods, the rookie U.S. Presidents Cup captain, called on Tiger Woods the experienced player to bolster an American team looking to win for the eighth straight time in the biennial competition, making himself one of his four wild-card picks on Thursday night for the 13th Presidents Cup in December in Melbourne, Australia.

Woods, 43, also selected American firebrand Patrick Reed, with whom he fizzled in team play last year in the Ryder Cup in France, and first-time players Tony Finau and Woodland, the U.S. Open champion. Finau, who had a solid Ryder Cup debut last year as a captain’s pick, going 2-1-0, and Woodland were ninth and 10th, respectively, in the final U.S. qualifying standings.

The four join the automatic qualifiers, who were, in order: Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Bryson DeChambeau.

Of course, the focus of the evening was Woods selecting himself, which seemed a certainty after he won the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan two weeks ago to capture his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour title. The reigning Masters champion triumphed despite coming off a two-month layoff to rehab from knee surgery he underwent in August. He’ll be the first playing captain since Hale Irwin in the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s something I’m looking forward to,” said Woods, who will appear in his ninth Presidents Cup and first since 2013 when he scored the clinching point for the U.S. at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. He also had the clinching point in 2011 at Royal Melbourne, where he went 2-3.

His overall record of 24-15-1 includes a 6-2 singles mark. Only Phil Mickelson, with 26, has more wins in the event between either team.

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Tiger Woods. Photo by Golffile

“The Zozo Championship was a big event. It validated that I could still play and that I could help the team,” Woods added.

The U.S. leads the biennial series 10-1-1. Its only loss came at Royal Melbourne in 1998. The only player returning from that team is Woods, although Fred Couples, one of Tiger’s vice captains, also played for the U.S. that year.

Woodland, 35, didn’t hurt his chances by playing well in Japan and being paired with Woods in the final two rounds. The Kansas native will be a rookie, but he did win the World Cup with Kuchar in 2011 in China. “We’re very comfortable together. We played alternate shot, we played best ball, and we came out victorious against some great teams.”

Although Finau, 30, and Woodland are newcomers, their place in the standings made them almost certain selections. Meanwhile, the candidate on the shakiest ground was Reed, of all players, who has been America’s toughest competitor in these team matches with a 7-3-2 mark in the Ryder Cup and 4-3-2 record in the Presidents Cup.

However, paired with Woods last year in France, Reed, 29, played poorly and stewed over captain Jim Furyk breaking up his successful partnership with Jordan Spieth. He was outspoken in his criticism of both Furyk and Spieth in the aftermath, which also came off sounding like a backhanded slap at Woods as well.

Apparently, Tiger didn’t take it personally.

“He’s as fiery as they come, and he bleeds red, white and blue, and he will do anything to get a point for you,” Woods said. “When he goes out on that golf course you know he’s going to give you absolutely everything he has.”

The four picks all are ranked in the top 16 in the world: Woods (7), Finau (14), Reed (15) and Woodland (16). All but one U.S. player, No. 22 Kuchar, are ranked ahead of the highest International player, Adam Scott, who is 17th.

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Jordan Spieth. Photo by Golffile

Among the notable players omitted were Spieth, Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. Spieth has played on every U.S. team in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup since the 2013 Presidents Cup, while Fowler had been on the last four American teams. Which is nothing compared to Mickelson’s amazing streak of Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups dating to 1994.

Woods said he made calls to five players who he had to leave at home. The toughest was to Fowler, a fellow Jupiter, Fla., resident who recently got married and hasn’t competed since the Tour Championship. Fowler finished 11th on the points list, just ahead of Reed and Woods, respectively.

“Rickie is a good friend of mine and I’ve known him for a long time. We kept it short. There was no reason to get into a lengthy conversation,” Woods said. “He obviously was going to be hurt and disappointed by it. I’ve been on that side. It’s not easy.”

Fowler is likely to be the first man to receive an emergency call should Koepka, the world's top-ranked player, have to bow out because of a knee injury that required surgery in the offseason and then was re-aggravated last month at the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges, where he withdrew after the second round.

“All I can tell you is that he is rehabbing right now, trying to get better and trying to get ready,” Woods said of Koepka. “We’re going to focus on that. When he starts playing golf he’ll let me know.” Woods can replace an injured player as late as the day prior to the start of the competition, which is Thursday, Dec. 12.

Woods also said the option of adding another vice-captain to the contingent of Couples, Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson was “still on the table.”

“Now that our team has been rounded out and we have all 12 guys … the detail work of playing golf is going to come to fruition,” Woods said. “We’re going to have a pretty solid team going down there.”

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