On Thursday, he wore dark sunglasses and rode in a cart with Patrick Reed’s wife and Jordan Spieth’s girlfriend. He huddled with former U.S. President Barack Obama on the first tee and wore an earpiece and carried a Trackman bag. As one scribe noted, it “looked like a mobile command from The Rock that launches the rockets.”
Woods is resuming the same role he held during last year’s Ryder Cup and that in the past would have seemed beneath someone of his stature in the game. But now, at 41, and after being sidelined from the game for his fourth back surgery and dealing with an addiction to painkillers after being found asleep at the wheel of his car along a Florida highway in May, it is refreshing to see Woods embrace his role as an elder statesmen in the team room and one of four pom-pom wavers for U.S. Captain Steve Stricker.
“He’s the greatest player of all time so when he talks you listen,” Presidents Cup rookie Daniel Berger said. “There’s a presence when you’re around him, you can feel like something in the air and it’s just cool to be a part of that.”
Woods is fully engaged as both mentor and team strategist, and he has done his homework. American Brandt Snedeker recounted a humorous story of Woods diving head first into his assistant captain role for the Ryder Cup and ringing him on a regular basis in the lead up to last year’s match with Team Europe.
“To say it’s unusual to get a call from Tiger Woods would be pretty accurate. I don’t get a lot of those calls,” Snedeker said. “Got to the point where I was joking around, like ‘You’re calling me more than my wife is right now. We need to figure something out.’ But it’s great to have that kind of commitment and that kind of passion from a guy like Tiger.”
For years, these biennial team competitions felt more like a burden than an honor to Woods, and it showed in his pedestrian Ryder Cup record of 13-17-3. When injury sidelined him from participating in 2008 and 2014, he was conspicuously absent. So good on Tiger for being a “team player.” It shows he cares about the competition and is willing to be part of it in a non-playing capacity. Some day, he will be referred to as Captain Woods, and if anyone deserves multiple tours at the helm of Team USA in both Cup competitions it is Woods.
As for his future as a golfer, that’s the $64 million question. Woods addressed the media publicly for the first time since April 18, when he announced he would be building a golf course in Missouri. Woods made two swings that day in the Ozarks -- one good, one ugly -- from a makeshift tee at what will serve as a dramatic par-3 19th hole once the course is built.
“The back is progressing,” he said at the time. “I have good days and bad days. I’ve had three back operations, and that’s just kind of the nature of the business, unfortunately. That’s all I can say.”
The very next day, he went under the knife for the fourth time. So, if we’ve learned nothing we have to take his words with a grain of salt. He said he’s going to listen to his surgeon this time and there is no timetable yet to return. He’s working out and his broad shoulders suggest he’s lifting again. Prior to the back surgery, Woods didn’t know if he would’ve been able to participate as an assistant captain this week.
“I couldn’t ride in a cart,” he said. “The bouncing just hurt too much.”
It was telling that when asked if he could imagine a scenario when he wouldn’t play competitively again, Woods replied, “Yeah, definitely. I don’t know what the future holds for me.”
None of us do, but if it does include one more run at Jack Nicklaus and his record 18 majors count Tour veteran James Hahn among the realists who expect Woods will have a rude awakening if and when he returns.
“There are so many great players on this Tour now that he’s going to come out here and see how good these younger kids are and how fearless they are and he might just wake up one day and say he can’t compete with that,” Hahn said. “I don’t think he’s going to be satisfied being 58th in the FedEx Cup and grinding to make the BMW Championship and grinding away top-30 finishes. He’s not going to just play because he loves the game and wants to play golf tournaments. That’s my unprofessional opinion.”
We’d rather see the old Tiger hitting his stinger off the tee, dazzling with his recovery skills, and fist-pumping a victory putt, but for this week, it’s good to see him holding a walkie-talkie and dressed in red, white and blue.
As for Tiger fetching players a sandwich at the turn? Well, it’s hard to imagine telling Tiger to hold the mayo, but some of the players may have fun doing just that.