Tiger Woods, playing captain. After four magical days in Augusta, that seemed inevitable for this year’s Presidents Cup. What has transpired since has put that into doubt, and placed Woods in an unenviable, and unwinnable, position.
If Woods picks himself, critics will claim forces with financial stakes in the biennial match coerced him into playing, that his performance since the Masters doesn’t merit a selection and a very deserving player has to watch the proceedings from home. Should Woods humbly bow out, well, that’s no good either: Fans want to see Tiger.
Luckily, there’s an easy solution to this potential dilemma, one that satisfies all parties: Make Woods and International leader Ernie Els ceremonial playing captains that don’t count against each team’s four wild-card picks, thus increasing the rosters from 12 players to 13.
Simple, really. With just one more PGA Tour event officially on his schedule before the Presidents Cup (ZOZO Championship), it’s damn hard to justify Woods – even with him winning Major No.15 in April – as a captain’s pick on November 4. (OK, perhaps not “damn hard.” The green jacket is a strong trump card.) That Woods has admittedly struggled physically at times during the Open Championship and FedEx Cup Playoffs doesn’t help those prospects, nor does the horde of viable American candidates for those four captain’s spots. There’s also the idea that the Presidents Cup, due to its one-sided history, is more a corporate affair than spirited competition. Although, at its core, that sentiment could not be more false, the optics of adding Woods in his current state will fuel the derision.
Yet if Woods is made a ceremonial playing captain, those worries, at least most of them, are alleviated.
The 43-year-old can be limited to two matches – one through the first three days, the second during Sunday singles – allowing a more manageable workload to his body. Though there are always snubs in these types of events, by not counting Woods against the four picks it will keep the talking heads from growling too much. Taking the spot of someone like Tony Finau or Gary Woodland, not so much. Fans in Australia and audiences around the world still get to see Tiger, and the PGA Tour retains the opportunity to promote the participation of its biggest asset.
The ceremonial aspect might rub cynics the wrong way, that it undercuts the validity of the event. To that we say (a) this ain’t Jack Nicklaus or Gary Player hitting the opening tee shot at Augusta; the man did win the Masters this year, and (b) technically, it is an exhibition, and with the top 12 on each side battling, there’s enough formidable play to maintain a competitive atmosphere.
As to those thinking Woods would stomp all over Els, the Big Easy can still hold his own, finishing T-7 at the Maybank Championship and T-12 at the Dubai Desert Classic this season. Plus it would give a nice throwback nod to their 2003 Presidents Cup showdown.
There is precedent for such a move, courtesy of the NBA. At this year’s All-Star Game, Adam Silver made Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade ceremonial commissioner’s picks. Both got some run in the game (and played well, for what it’s worth), giving the league and fans a chance to show their appreciation to the retiring legends. Moreover, they didn’t take away meaningful minutes from the current stars.
A day after his season came to an end, Woods said he considers himself in the mix despite not automatically qualifying. “That’s up to me and my vice captains and the eight guys who qualified,” he said.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan should follow the example from his basketball peer and take away that onus from Woods. Consider it the first point scored in the 2019 Presidents Cup.