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Tiger Woods’ mystique leaves him critical Presidents Cup choice

VICTORIA, Australia — Tiger Woods wore a serious look Tuesday morning in Australia (Monday in the United States), ready to assume his role as captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team that will meet a squad of international players captained by Ernie Els. Maybe the game face was because Woods has a lot to think about before the competition begins Thursday.

He will be the first playing-captain since Hale Irwin in 1998, meaning along with figuring out how to pair the other 11 players on his squad, he must decide who will be his partner when he competes. Whoever teams with Tiger will be very much in the spotlight that will follow Woods throughout the entire week at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

Asked by The Post how he plans to choose his playing partner, Woods offered little insight.

“It’s team-first, so whatever we deem as the best possible order for our team, that’s what we’re going to run with,” Woods said. “Plus the ability in the Presidents Cup to pair players against certain groups from the International side is always a fun challenge. Sometimes that determines who goes out when.”

Tiger Woods
Tiger WoodsGetty Images

Pairings for the opening Four-Ball matches on Thursday must be made by 4 p.m. here on Wednesday (midnight ET). Woods will choose who goes first to start the draw and the captains alternate the remaining sessions. In a minor change this year, each player is required to play a minimum of one match prior to Sunday’s singles matches. Previously, players were required to compete in two matches prior to singles.

Woods almost can’t go wrong picking anyone from his roster — though it might be a tough ask for Patrick Cantlay, Gary Woodland, and Xander Schauffele, all playing in their first team event, to enter the Woods fish bowl.

Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau are playing in their first Presidents Cup but competed in last year’s Ryder Cup. Either, especially Finau, could be at the top of Woods’ short list. It’s unlikely, he’ll partner with Cup veterans such as Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Justin Thomas or Patrick Reed, who figures to be a target of the Aussie crowds after being penalized for a rules infraction at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last weekend.

If history means anything, Matt Kuchar figures to receive strong consideration. Kuchar was Woods’ partner for all four of the team events in 2013 when Woods last played in the Presidents Cup. The Woods-Kuchar pairing was 3-1 at Muirfield Village, where the Americans claimed an 18 ½ to 15 ½ victory.

When Woods competed at Royal Melbourne in 2011 he played with two players now servicing as his vice-captains: Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson. Woods was 1-2 with Johnson and 0-1 with Stricker, though the Americans emerged with a 19-15 victory.

Woods last played in a Ryder Cup in 2012, when he was 0-3-1 in team events with Stricker. The U.S. suffered a brutal defeat that year at Medinah, where the Europeans scored eight points on the final day to win 14 ½ to 13 ½.

The reigning Masters champion, Woods is the first playing captain since Irwin. But unlike Woods, Irwin qualified for the event. Irwin went 2-1, including a victory in singles as the Americans defeated the Internationals, 20-12. The last playing captain in a Ryder Cup was the late great Arnold Palmer in 1963.

Woods has had far more success in Presidents Cup competition than in the Ryder Cup, mirroring the team results. He is 24-15-1 in eight Presidents Cups and 13-21-3 in eight Ryder Cups. The Americans have won 10 of the 11 previous Presidents Cups and haven’t lost since 1998. The U.S. is 3-9 in the past 12 Ryder Cup matches.

Playing against Woods, who was the perennial No. 1 player in the world, has always brought out the best in his opponents in these teams events. Though he is 43, that probably won’t change.

“I think the other players, they really get up to play against Tiger, as well they should,” Irwin has said. “He’s such a dominant player. He provides fodder for other players because of his record and how good he is. But as a captain he also can take his energy and wisdom and skills and apply it and hopefully draw the best out of his players.”