Sobel’s Presidents Cup Preview: Tiger Woods Should Call His Own Number at Royal Melbourne

Sobel’s Presidents Cup Preview: Tiger Woods Should Call His Own Number at Royal Melbourne article feature image

Michael Madrid, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods

A quarter-century ago, way back when the concept of a Presidents Cup was implemented and a roster of American players took on an International team for the first time, Hale Irwin held the dual roles of U.S. captain and team member.

We can lament those being simpler times, as Irwin employed just one assistant – gasp! – to help with his duties, while four of the opposition’s best players either withdrew or decided to compete elsewhere that same week.

But the point remains: While leading his team off the course, Irwin was similarly successful on it, posting a 2-1-0 record for the week, including a Sunday singles victory over Robert Allenby.

All of which should leave us with one prevailing thought for the upcoming week: If Irwin can do it, Tiger Woods should be able to do it, too.

Woods will become just the second playing captain in the event’s history at Royal Melbourne, the unlikely byproduct of him wanting a leadership role when the future of his career was in doubt, then solidifying his spot on the team with three wins in the past 15 months, including at a little something called the Masters earlier this year.

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There’s a sense that Woods might restrict himself during these proceedings, that the combination of his captaincy role and his physical limitations might force him to skip a few sessions.

However, as the man who’s taken to speaking in the third-person over the past few months might say, Tiger the team member will undoubtedly be lobbying Captain Woods to compete as much as possible – and it probably wouldn’t be a poor decision.

Despite identical 2-3-0 records in two previous trips to Royal Melbourne for this event – back in 1998, the only time the U.S. has lost; and in 2011, when he forgettably paired with Dustin Johnson for three matches – the fast, firm, wind-blown sandbelt track should be set up for the best long- and mid-iron players, and Woods remains amongst the world’s elite in this ball-striking category.

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If he needs rest due to physical concerns, well, that’s one thing, although his recent victory during the on-again, off-again weather delays of the Zozo Championship might prove – to himself as much as anyone else – that he can handle the rigors of playing an atypical schedule.

But if the man with a 24-15-1 career Presidents Cup record decides that he needs to bench himself in order to drive a cart and listen to the action through an earpiece, he should know that his three assistants are two more than Irwin had when he held both positions. Certainly, the captain can lean on the likes of Fred Couples, Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson to hold down the fort while he’s on the course.

That’s not the only rationale for why Tiger should be playing, though.

It’s been suggested that great players don’t often make for great coaches in other sports, though in golf, where captain truly is a different role than coach, the game’s greats can at least inspire their players to success. That might in part explain why Jack Nicklaus owned a winning 3-2-1 as a team captain in the Ryder and Presidents Cups and Arnold Palmer was a perfect 3-0-0.

If any player is going to be most inspired by Captain Woods, it’s Tiger, who understands he’ll not only receive twice the credit should the team win, but perhaps more importantly, twice the blame if it doesn’t.

Woods may have shown his cards, pairing himself with Justin Thomas during the opening round of last week’s Hero World Challenge. Or maybe he was bluffing, instead planning to pair with Bryson DeChambeau or Patrick Reed or Rickie Fowler or anyone else. It doesn’t matter, really. A healthy Tiger deserves to be playing as much as he can handle this week.

Based on everything we know – from his record in this event to the course suiting his game to an ability to lean on his assistants while he competes – it won’t be a surprise if the captain’s best player this week is a guy he knows very well, a guy he’ll continue talking about in the third-person.

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