Tiger Woods unrecognizable as U.S. Presidents Cup captain

MELBOURNE, Australia — This is a different Tiger Woods. You can see it already. The stoic, single-focused, seldom friendly competitor he once was has long been replaced by a friendlier and more engaging personality. Now he has turned into Pete Carroll as he enters his role of captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team.

You could hear it in his voice when he announced his four captain’s picks a few weeks ago.

“It’s going to be a lot of work but one that I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time,” he said, beaming an ear-to-ear smile.

Ultimately, Woods will be remembered for all he has accomplished individually as a golfer, a brilliant career that has survived multiple surgeries and personal setbacks to capture 15 major championships and a record-tying 82 PGA victories.

At age 43, he enters a new arena this week in Australia, where he assumes the role of captain representing the United States in a team event. The Americans will face an International squad captained by Ernie Els of South Africa at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, with the first round of matches beginning Thursday in Australia, Wednesday in the United States.

In addition, Woods utilized one of his four captain’s picks to appoint himself to the 12-man U.S. squad, making him the first playing captain since Hale Irwin in 1994.

The U.S. has lost only one of the previous 12 Presidents Cups. That came in 1998 at Royal Melbourne, where the Internationals beat the Americans captained by Jack Nicklaus 20½-11½. The U.S. won the most recent event, 19-11, in 2017 at Liberty National in Jersey City.

“It’s an honor and tremendous responsibility to be able to defend and represent our country,” Woods said recently. “Especially since we’re going to Australia, a place where we lost the Cup for the one time. I happen to be there on that team.”

The Presidents Cup remains the little brother of the team events, created as an alternative to the more popular and established Ryder Cup, in which the U.S. plays the Europeans every other year. Woods’ presence as Presidents Cup captain is a much-needed boost for an event that normally garners little attention at a time when the NFL and NBA seasons are in full bloom.

Woods still draws the spotlight. He recaptured the admiration of sports fans worldwide with his victory at the Masters this year. And there were no complaints when he added himself to the Presidents Cup team following his victory at the ZOZO Championship last October in Japan, where he was 19-under with rounds of 64, 64, 66 and 67. The victory tied Sam Snead’s Tour record of 82 career wins. He remains in good form, finishing fourth at this weekend’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

It will be interesting to see how Woods handles the role of captain. He’ll be aided by vice captains Fred Couples, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker, but Woods will be in charge of pairings and keeping harmony among his team. He’ll also play a minimum of two matches.

“The players wanted me to play in the event,” Woods said, adding, “For me, the ZOZO championship was a big event and validated that I still could play and help the team.”

As historic as Woods’ career has been as an individual golfer, his record in team events has been spotty. His Ryder Cup résumé is an unimpressive 13-17-3, but includes a 4-1-2 record in singles competition. The only U.S. Ryder Cup victory he took part in came in 1999 at Brookline.

Meanwhile, his record in Presidents Cups is a more respectable 24-15-1. The U.S. hasn’t lost a Presidents Cup since 1998, and Woods is under competitive pressure to extend the winning streak to 10 straight.

“I know that he does not want to go down there and not come back without the Cup,” said Rickie Fowler, who was added to the American squad after the withdrawal of top-ranked Brooks Koepka due to injury.

“I know Tiger means business,” Fowler added. “He’s not overlooking anything. I think over the last few years, people have begun to see how much these events do mean to Tiger.”

Woods served as vice-captain on two previous Presidents Cups while he was recovering from injuries. It allowed him to get closer to young players who admired him while they were growing up in the game. Being a captain is something Woods always knew he was going to do because it’s what great players like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer did. Figure him to be more like the rah-rah go-get-’em type like Carroll of the Seahawks than Bill Belichick.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun for all of us, me included,” Woods said. “Going against Ernie and his team is no easy task. The Aussie fanatics and the home crowd will be into it.”

The Americans are heavy favorites and feature a loaded squad composed of Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Gary Woodland, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Fowler and Woods.

The Internationals will counter with Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman, Abraham Ancer, Haotong Li, C.T. Pan, Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Adam Hadwin, Sungjae Im and Byeong Hun An.

Look, these team events are only life-and-death to those competing and usually forgotten by the time the regular tour schedule begins a few weeks from now. But this year’s Presidents Cup seems to mean everything to Woods, completing a full circle from player to playing captain. Who would have expected anything less?

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