One huge sigh of disappointment echoed from inside the media centre to the thousands-strong galleries lining the fairways of Royal Melbourne Golf Club at the Presidents Cup around midday Saturday.
It was deafening. It was deflating. And it was always going to be tournament defining, one way or the other.
After sitting out the morning four-ball matches, Tiger Woods, playing captain of the United States, read out the afternoon pairings for the foursomes showdown. The first notable omission: Patrick Reed. No surprises there. Captain America-turned pantomime villain has been having an absolute stinker of a time in Melbourne ever since he touched down from his Bahamian bunker brain snap. Heckling from the crowd, tick. Shoulder charges, tick. Caddie whacks, tick. Not one single point to make up for any of it, big cross! Have a spell, Patty.
Then came the big one … a monumental oversight that we all initially thought may have been a mistake: Tiger Woods left out his best player – Tiger Woods – again.
In an utterly head-scratching move that even bewildered International skipper Ernie Els, Woods made the decision to sit himself out for a second consecutive session. The 15-time Major champ, who won both of his matches on days one and two, declared he was acting in his team’s best interests when pressed by media how he could arrive at such a conclusion.
“You have to do what’s best for the team, and I’m getting ready for the singles tomorrow,” Woods said before later confirming he was not injured and that the decision was all part of the game plan.
Fair enough, a plan’s a plan. And he is Tiger Woods, the greatest thing in golf, after all. But try telling that to the thousands of spectators who paid serious coin to come spend their work-free Saturday catching a glimpse of golf’s main man. Try telling that to the thousands of corporates whose bosses paid even more coin for their guests to eat, drink and chant “Tiger, Tiger” until their heart’s content.
One could only imagine some of the heat tournament organisers had to face once Tiger’s absence hit the electronic boards lighting up the course like an amusement park. Heck, even his own assistant captains were stuck for words, and apparently tried everything to convince their leader to strap on the spikes and go win a point.
“I tried to talk myself out of it (not playing), too,” confirmed a deadpan Woods. “But, you know, it is what it is. We’re going to go out there and try and get some points today and be ready for tomorrow.”
Let’s cut straight to the point: an undefeated Tiger not picking himself for two sessions on the trot is exactly why the playing-captain role is counterintuitive in any team sport, let alone golf, and should be abolished for good.
Apart from the fact a playing captain naturally misses half of the action while he’s out in the heat of battle trying to win himself, conflicts of interest will inevitably arise come decision-making time.
Regardless of the actual results on the day (at the time of writing the US was leading all four matches in what appeared to be a genius move!), Tiger shouldn’t have benched himself Saturday because, quite frankly, it shouldn’t have been his choice. The very fact he put humility aside in the first place when he – quite rightly so – selected himself on November 8 as one of his four captain’s picks, should have smashed the moral compass there and then. If it was good enough more than a month ago, it should have been good enough Saturday.
Team USA may not have lost anything as a result of Tiger’s act of selflessness, but the Presidents Cup as a spectacle most certainly did.