Americans are heavy favorites, but Tiger Woods will be tested after journey

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Americans are heavy favorites, but Tiger Woods will be tested after journey

2019 Presidents Cup

Americans are heavy favorites, but Tiger Woods will be tested after journey

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Tiger Woods was cold to the idea when he was first approached to be a Presidents Cup captain a few years back, a time where he didn’t know what his troublesome back – and thus his life – held for him in the future.

“I wasn’t in the right physical state or mental state to be thinking about it,” Woods said. “I didn’t know if I could ever be a part of the game of golf again.”

Well, he’s become a major part of the game once again, the game’s biggest star both on and off the course, just as he was for nearly 20 years after turning pro in 1996 before injuries put his career in jeopardy.

Lately, however, he’s all over golf’s map – host of last week’s Hero World Challenge, where he finished fourth in the star-studded field, and now as captain and player for the U.S. team as it faces the Internationals in this week’s Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in Australia.

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A lot of hats to wear, Woods said. Being an assistant captain at the 2016 Ryder Cup and the 2017 Presidents Cup and the persuasion from past captains and assistants ignited his itch to be a captain.

“It’s a lot of moving parts,” Woods said of his dual roles these two weeks, “but something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Putting things in boxes has always been something I’ve been good at.”

At 43, he’s the youngest captain in the event’s history and he will join Hale Irwin as the only playing captains in the event. When he was named captain in March 2018, Woods joked he wanted to make the team as a player. Guess who got the last laugh? He was ranked 149th in the world at the time. Four months later he contended in the British Open, a month later he finished second in the PGA Championship, a month after that he won the Tour Championship.

The U.S. and International teams pose for pictures along the Yarra River during the Fan Experience Opening Celebration at the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Then he won the Masters in April and his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour title in the Zozo Championship in October. Thus Woods, the captain, deservedly used one of his four discretionary picks on Woods, the player, who is now world No. 6.

Woods will lead a heavily favored U.S. squad – all 12 players are ranked in the top 25; only three of the Internationals are in the top 25. The U.S. leads the series 10-1-1. It won the last match by eight points.

But don’t think Woods will kick back Down Under. He was on the team that lost at Royal Melbourne in 1998. And he has most everyone involved with the team on speed dial.

“I already know he’s going to be a great captain just for how serious he’s taken it so far and how much he wants this for us,” Justin Thomas said. “The conversation and the communication started a while ago in terms of what we’re going to do, things that I can do to help, things that he feels he can do.”

What Woods already has done is open up all lines of communication.

“I’ve stressed this the entire time, be open and honest, be frank with me,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of offline conversations with all the players. It’ll remain in a locked box, it’s just between you and me. If you want to share with the team, share with the team. If you don’t, it’s between us.”

One thing Woods will be monitoring is Woods. He’s playing successive weeks and endured a 26-hour, 10,000-mile journey from the Bahamas to Australia. The last time he played back-to-back was during the FedExCup Playoffs, when he withdrew with an oblique injury after the first round of the Northern Trust and then tied for 37th in the BMW Championship.

The following week he had the fifth surgical procedure on his left knee to remove cartilage. After working his knee back into shape, he flew to Japan and won the Zozo. The response of his left knee in Japan gave him “confidence that it will hold up in the long run down in Australia.”

But one can’t forget last year when Woods won the Tour Championship, flew to Paris for the Ryder Cup that night and fell flat that week against the Europeans, going 0-4.

“The emotional stress and the emotional release of finally winning an event coming back from my back surgery, that took a toll on me a bit,” Woods said after last year’s back-to-back. “So this is a totally different animal.”

Well, some say the Internationals are easy prey. Woods doesn’t see it that way. Neither does Adam Scott, the highest-ranked player, at No. 18, on the Internationals.

“It’d be great to stick it to Tiger and the entire American team,” Scott said. “He’s the ultimate competitor. There’s no way he’s not doing everything possible coming down here as a captain, and a player, to win this event. There’s no way he wants to be captain of a losing U.S. team.

“It’s going to be very difficult, but we have to believe we can beat him and I believe we can win.”

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