ORLANDO, Fla. – Tiger Woods was named the next U.S. Presidents Cup Captain on Tuesday, just two days after his best PGA TOUR finish in nearly five years. The timing raised an obvious question.
Has he thought about bringing his clubs to Royal Melbourne?
It was the first inquiry he fielded from the media. Woods chuckled before giving a straightforward answer.
“Yes, I have.”
Woods’ quick success in this latest comeback at least makes the idea feasible. The next Presidents Cup will be played in Australia on Dec. 12-15, 2019. A lot could change over the next 639 days, but Woods has proven he’s capable of winning when he’s healthy.
Woods showed glimpses of his old self at last week’s Valspar Championship, where he finished one shot behind Paul Casey. Woods, 42, will be the youngest Captain in the Presidents Cup’s history and he’s shown that he can keep up with the kids on TOUR, ranking second in clubhead speed this season.
The Captain’s role involves much more than making picks and setting lineups. Juggling those myriad duties while properly preparing to play an international competition is no easy task. The improved infrastructure of the U.S. side could help Woods handle the dual roles. Woods could lean on experienced Captain’s Assistants like Fred Couples, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Davis Love III to lighten his load.
“There’s a few people who carry enough weight and could focus enough (to be a playing Captain). I think Tiger is definitely in that group,” said two-time Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III. “If Davis Love is a playing Captain, guys would worry. If Tiger’s playing, they’d be excited that we have him on our side. He’s going to win points and be a leader.
“I think it will be the best thing ever for the Presidents Cup.”
Like many good ideas, a Woods captaincy was first floated on a group text. This one involved recent U.S. captains. They told Woods that he would be on the short list for the next Presidents Cup captaincy. After some thought, Woods called PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan to express his interest. He asked if it would be possible to play at Royal Melbourne, as well.
Monahan gave the only reasonable answer. “Yes.”
Woods has played eight Presidents Cups. He’s holed the clinching putt three times (2009, ’11 and ’13). He has a 24-15-1 record. Only Phil Mickelson has won more matches. He has an affinity for Royal Melbourne, which was designed by the same man, Dr. Alister Mackenzie, who laid out his beloved Augusta National.
Woods played the two previous Presidents Cups at Royal Melbourne. He went 2-3 both times, but won his singles match each year. The entire U.S. Team struggled at Royal Melbourne in 1998 as the Internationals scored their lone Presidents Cup victory. Thirteen years later, Woods holed the winning putt there.
Woods would likely have to qualify for his own team. A format change for 2019 will make that task tougher, though. The top eight in the U.S. Team standings after the 2019 TOUR Championship will earn spots on the team. That’s two fewer spots than previous years. The number of automatic berths was reduced because of the lengthy interval between the TOUR Championship and Presidents Cup. Woods will have four Captain’s Picks. He has the resume to support a selection, but he seemed hesitant to lobby himself for a pick.
“I would like to get to a point where I wouldn’t have to make that decision, to where I’m playing well enough where I could make the team on points,” Woods said.
A playing Captain is rare, but not unprecedented. Hale Irwin played both roles in 1994. He compiled a 2-1 record in the United States’ 20-12 victory at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County, Virginia. Irwin beat Robert Allenby, 1 up, in the first singles match of the final day.
The inaugural Presidents Cup was announced on April 13, 1994, just five months before the competition. Irwin won the RBC Heritage that same week. He was 48 and it was his first PGA TOUR win in four years. He was named the U.S. Captain a few weeks later.
He bumped Jay Haas from the final automatic spot on the team with a 10th-place finish at the last event of the qualifying period, the World Series of Golf at Firestone Country Club. Irwin used his two Captain’s Picks on Haas and Phil Mickelson. It was Mickelson’s first time representing the United States as a professional. He hasn’t missed a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup since.
Arnold Palmer was the last playing captain in Ryder Cup history. Palmer, then 34, led the U.S. to the second-largest winning margin in Ryder Cup history. He went 4-2 in his team’s 23-9 victory at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
The qualifying period for the 2019 Presidents Cup began at last year’s BMW Championship. Woods is 44th in the standings for his team. It’s too early to tell if he’ll be wearing two hats in Australia, though.
“That’s a bridge that’s a long way away from now to be crossing, but if it does come to that point, it won’t just be my decision,” Woods said. “It will be a collaborative effort, what is best for the team.”
If Woods is playing well, there’s few things that could be better for the U.S. side.