Tiger Woods playing in Melbourne this year was off, then on and feared off again – now it might be back on.
The “will he or won’t he” drama took a potentially positive twist for Australian golf fans today when the American Presidents Cup captain didn’t rule out playing at Royal Melbourne in December.
Woods said he would consult with his assistants and players, but ultimately the decision on whether he picks himself as a player will fall on his own shoulders.
Woods wasn’t one of the top eight automatic qualifiers for the biennial teams event, but the Masters champion still has four captain’s picks up his sleeve.
“My job as the captain is to put together the best team possible and try and put together the best 12 guys,” Woods told a global teleconference today.
“That's what I'm trying to do. We'll be going through the whole process of having open communication with our top eight guys and my vice-captains.
“That is something that we will certainly talk about, whether I should play or not play. Ultimately it's going to be my call whether I do play or not as the captain. But I want to have all of their opinions before that decision is made.”
The 43-year-old’s season ended at the weekend’s BMW Championship in Chicago after he failed to move into the top 30 players who qualified for the Tour Championship, the tournament he famously won a year ago at East Lake Golf Club.
Woods only played six more events this season after winning his 15th major at Augusta National. In those, he had one top 10, but missed two cuts and withdrew after one round of the recent Northern Trust with an oblique strain.
He hadn’t originally been thought of as a playing possibility when he first accepted the role as captain, but his stellar end to 2018 and Masters glory had Woods declare himself the “playing captain” in newsletter emails.
But that prospect cooled with injury setbacks in the past few months, and while he says those wanting a pick should stay competitively sharp, Woods himself has only committed to one event in the new season, in Japan from 24-27 October, with his picks due one week later.
The only previous playing captain in the Presidents Cup was Hale Irwin in the inaugural event in 1994. Others in line for a pick include Tony Finau, US Open champion Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kisner, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth.
The four selections will join Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Bryson DeChambeau on the American team.
“We talked about how important it is to be committed to the team and to the event and to each other, and that means playing and being prepared,” Woods said.
“The only time that we have ever lost a Cup was in Australia (at Royal Melbourne in 1998), and quite frankly, some of the guys didn't play or practise that much. It was our off-season, and we got beat pretty badly.
“It's something that I try to reinforce to the guys, that it is important to be solid, be fresh, and to be sharp because we're going overseas and we're playing against an amazing team, and it's on their soil. These guys are going to be tough to beat. So we're looking forward to the challenge.”
Woods said his own preparation would include practice and side games with other professionals who live near him in Florida.
“It's practising, it's playing, it's staying sharp. Obviously I'm playing in Japan, so that's going to help,” Woods said of his own preparation.
“It has to do with a lot of my competitions I'm going to have down here (in Florida). I'll be playing with a lot of the guys here. They're going to be getting ready for some of the fall events, we'll have some matches, and that's always fun because we're able to talk trash and have a great time and try and get in one another's pockets.
“That will be something that I will definitely rely on, and obviously the event in Japan will be a big deal.”
The US has a 10-1-1 record in the Presidents Cup, but Led by Ernie Els, the Internationals have vowed to use new tactics, based on analytics, to try to topple the American juggernaut.
Only Webb Simpson is without a win in 2019 among the US team. Only newcomer C.T. Pan has a 2019 win among the Internationals.
But Woods won’t allow complacency.
He hopes most of his team will play in his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas the week before heading to Melbourne.
“You have to look at the fact that it's played out there on the golf course, not on paper,” Woods said.
“I've been a part of some pretty amazing teams over the years. We had a pretty solid team going down to Australia in '98. We've had some pretty solid teams in Ryder Cups, as well, and I've been on the losing end of those. It's played out on the course. So that's something that I've told my players.”
– with Ben Everill, PGA Tour