Shackelford: Captain Tiger makes things harder on himself for fun

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Shackelford: Captain Tiger makes things harder on himself for fun

2019 Presidents Cup

Shackelford: Captain Tiger makes things harder on himself for fun

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Tiger Woods could have chosen Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler and Kevin Na to play on his 2019 Presidents Cup team and the message would have been clear: I’m taking four worthy players who make pairing easy. Woods instead chose himself and Patrick Reed instead of Fowler and Na, in part because both are just as worthy of a pick. But he also just added burdens to his play for the fun of it.

While fun and Patrick Reed do not usually seem like sympatico notions, bear with me. Woods has long wanted to be a playing captain because it’s an unusual challenge only done a few times in the modern era, most notably by Ben Hogan in a Ryder Cup and Hale Irwin in a Presidents Cup. For someone who has accomplished so much and played more than his fair share of team match events, flying to Australia for Royal Melbourne might not have gotten his competitive juices flowing at nearly age 44.

We sometimes take for granted the longevity of Woods and his primary rival, Phil Mickelson. They have been in the spotlight for a quarter century and would be more than entitled at this point to express a malaise when it comes to unpaid, high risk, often low reward team matches. Particularly the Presidents Cup, where the blowouts are piling up and the event lands in the inconvenient month of December, just 10 months before the next Ryder Cup.

Increase the challenge of balancing captaining duties with playing, and Woods gets to check another box off that few others have. He also gets to experience the duel fun of strategizing with pairings and playing match play on one of the world’s great stages. Suddenly that 19-hour journey from the Bahamas becomes more intriguing to someone who has always thrived off of achieving unimaginable things.

So why complicate the job by bringing Reed? A player who one year ago griped about the breakup of his partnership with Jordan Spieth, questioned the bro-friendly task force world’s back channel communications and did so after playing some career-worst golf at Le Golf National? It’s not like Reed’s season will remind anyone of Byron Nelson in 1945 with one win and five top-10s in 25 starts?

For one thing, Woods likes Reed and is drawn to players he sees as fearless with traces of iconoclastic tendencies. Woods and Reed play practice rounds often and as with Bryson DeChambeau, something about the way Reed ticks intrigues Tiger.

Perhaps Reed was not entirely wrong in a few of his post-Ryder Cup comments last year and Woods is more forgiving for that simple reason? Or there may just be the practicality of Reed continuing to find his game on the world stage while many other top Americans are playing a quiet fall schedule, setting up the possibility of a few coming in to the Presidents Cup rusty. And if there is a venue that will expose the cobwebs, it’s a firm, fast and demanding Royal Melbourne.

With world No. 1 Brooks Koepka potentially missing the Cup while rehabbing his left knee, Fowler seems likely to be his replacement. Fowler finished a spot ahead of Reed on the Presidents Cup points list and his easygoing nature suggests he might have been open to being left off the initial roster to give Reed a welcome-back confidence boost.

Woods has his reasons, but to any impartial observer, he made the already difficult tasks of serving as a playing captain more complicated by adding Reed in an event where pairings would have been easier to make with Fowler in town. Woods will be juggling the role of lineup making, reintroducing Reed to the American team room and needing to keep his game sharp. Not many could handle all of that. Which is exactly what appeals to someone who thrives off of steep challenges at this point in his illustrious career.

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