Rude: Woods the unanimous pick for Prez Cup

Fred Couples' choice of Tiger Woods may seem questionable to some, but not to Woods' U.S. teammates.

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Presidents Cup International team captain Greg Norman, bearing the fangs of a Shark, said recently he wouldn’t have picked Tiger Woods if he were making selections for the U.S. side. Never mind that Woods has won more major championships than the 23 other Cup players combined (14-13) and a dozen more PGA Tour titles than Norman’s entire lineup (71-59).

Woods, of course, is winless since his life turned upside down two years ago. That drought is one primary reason why Norman said he would have taken PGA champion Keegan Bradley, a Tour rookie, as a more deserving pick.

For one, U.S. captain Fred Couples disagreed; he told players in a late-spring meeting at the Memorial that he would choose Woods, then sidelined with a leg injury. What’s more, Couples has unification within the ranks. His players, to a man, disagree with Norman’s take, saying Woods is a wonderful addition to the team as well as the entertainment value of the biennial matches, to be held Nov. 17-20 in Australia.

Their view is shared by the young man just on the outside looking in. That would be Bradley, Couples’ declared first alternate.

“I think it’s great,” said Bradley, a two-time winner in 2011. “Any time you can have Tiger on your team, it’s pretty special. Sure he’ll be ready to go. It’s always dicey not picking him, because he’s such a good player. I think it’s a smart pick.”

Woods, 35, wasn’t so much a lifetime-achievement selection as he was a disabled-list projection and seemingly the ideal partner for Steve Stricker, himself coming off an injury. The thinking was that once Woods was healthy and could start working on his game in August, Woods would find a way to be sharp for match play three months later. Put another way, the Indianapolis Colts certainly would insert Peyton Manning in the lineup once healed.

“For whatever reason, the thing people haven’t focused on is since the Masters, (Woods) hasn’t been able to do anything (until August),” said Sean Foley, his coach since summer 2010. “It’s a shame. In other sports, Manning goes out, he has an elbow issue and he throws bad and they’re like, ‘You can’t throw with an elbow like that.’ ”

Held back by left-leg injury and rust, Woods heads to the Australian Open the week before the Cup with but 10 competitive rounds on his resume since April. In his last outing, an uneven performance at the Frys.com Open, he tied for 30th, improved daily, averaged 5.7 birdies the last three days, made too many mistakes (10 bogeys, one double) and, in a far different development from his glory days, routinely missed left off the tee.

“He hit quite a few amazing iron shots,” said 2010 Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen, Woods’ playing competitor for the first three days at the Frys.com. “(But) now he’s making bogeys easily. Obviously he’s working on a few things.”

Since his swing still wasn’t a second-nature motion, match play would seem to be the best-case format for Woods at this point. As U.S. team member David Toms said, “It’s not like you’re playing stroke play and everything counts. Match play’s a different animal. You just have to make birdies and beat whoever you’re playing.”

Woods’ record outside of the Ryder Cup, where he’s 13-14-2, screams success. Known to be intimidating, Woods ran the head-to-head table three times apiece at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior. He’s 18-11-1 at the Presidents Cup, including 9-2-1 in foursomes, 10-1 in his last 11 pairs matches and 4-0 in 2009 with Stricker.

“It’s a reasonable call on picking Tiger because Tiger’s Tiger, and last time he was 5-for-5 and he and Stricker were untouchable,” said Australian Geoff Ogilvy, an International team member for the third time. “His team play has been getting better and better. Maybe it’s the thing to revive Tiger. 

“But I don’t think it’s necessarily a great thing because there are 2-3 guys who have played better than him the last two years and don’t make the team. There’s something unfair about that.”

U.S. team members, up and down the line, look beyond perceived fairness and hail the choice. They see a potentially lethal teammate. Stricker, for one, uses words such as “glad” and “happy” and “comfortable” regarding the Woods addition.

 “I don’t think anyone who’s on the team or tried to make the team views it as a bad pick,” said Jim Furyk, a member of every Ryder-Presidents team starting in 1997. “If Tiger looks at you and says, ‘I’m healthy; I’m hungry; I’m working hard; I’m going to be ready’ . . . it makes him hard not to pick.”

“It’s great,” Nick Watney said. “He hates to lose maybe more than anybody ever. So I know he’s not going to go there unprepared.”

“For all he’s done in his career and how much he’s changed the game and how good of a teammate he is, I think it’s great,” Hunter Mahan said. “He’s going to be in a good frame of mind to play well.”

In his early years as a professional, Woods had the reputation of not being at his best in team play. People wondered why America couldn’t find him a four-ball partner. Some pundits looked at his Ryder Cup record and labeled him a poor teammate.

The view from the inside is different. Those who have spent hours with him in team rooms suggest he’s playful and one of the guys.

 “When he lets his guard down,” Mahan said, “it’s fantastic.”

“He’s got a great sense of humor,” Toms said. “I just think it never comes out. I think he’s guarded in public because he kind of has to be. But he’s certainly just part of the team when it’s behind closed doors.”

Stricker couldn’t agree more.

“He needles everybody; everybody needles him,” Stricker said. “It’s way different than public perception.”

To hear Furyk, Woods’ personality underscores a tenet of the street: We tease those we like; it’s indifference people need to worry about.

“His way of befriending and being nice is to be needling,” Furyk said. “As long as he’s giving you crap, you know you’re doing well.”

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