Tiger Woods named himself to the United States Presidents Cup team on Thursday, a decision as predictable as Christmas carols in radio rotation before Thanksgiving.
Woods, the American team captain, had four discretionary picks to complete his 12-player team. Along with the man in the mirror, Woods chose Tony Finau, who will make his Presidents Cup debut; Gary Woodland, the reigning United States Open champion, who will also make his first appearance in the event; and Patrick Reed, making his third appearance.
Woods announced his own selection by saying: “As captain, I’m going to choose Tiger Woods as the last player on the team. He’s made nine Cups, and he’s played in Australia twice. This will be his third appearance there. Interesting that I’m talking third person.”
In 10 of the 12 Presidents Cup showdowns, the United States has defeated the International Team, which is composed of players from outside the United States and Europe (which meets the United States in the Ryder Cup). The event ended in a tie in 2003, and the International Team got its only win in 1998 at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, which will host this year’s competition from Dec. 9 to 15.
Woods, who will turn 44 next month, collected his 15th major title at the Masters in April and his 82nd PGA Tour crown about two weeks ago at the Zozo Championship in Japan, tying Sam Snead’s career record.
Woods’s latest victory came in his first start since he had an operation on his left knee, a procedure that precluded him from taking a competitive swing for more than two months.
“Do I think he’s going to pick himself? I don’t think he’s got any choice,” Ernie Els, the International team captain, said on Wednesday in a teleconference after naming his final four picks.
“He’s in good form,” said Els, a four-time major champion, former world No. 1 and first-time captain. He added: “There’s nobody that strong.”
The eight automatic qualifiers for the United States team are: Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay.
The only other time that the Presidents Cup featured a playing captain was the inaugural event in 1994, when Hale Irwin qualified for the United States squad on points and was asked to lead the Americans. Three International team rookies — Im Sung-Jae, Joaquín Niemann and Li Haotong — were not yet born when Irwin deftly carried out his dual roles, compiling a 2-1 record in the United States team’s 20-12 victory.
“Frankly, playing was a piece of cake compared to the captaincy and all the myriad things you have to go through,” said Irwin, who cited the selection of team outfits as one of the many time-intensive tasks he took on.
Speaking by telephone from his Arizona home, Irwin, 74, added: “As a player, it was just tee the ball up and knock it down the middle and win the hole. That was pretty straightforward stuff.”
This year’s participants are obligated to appear in only one of the four sessions before Sunday’s singles matches, where everyone plays. The newly instituted change would seem to work to Woods’s advantage because it affords him the option of contributing as a player without worrying about overtaxing his surgically fused back and surgically repaired knees.
For help off the course, Woods has three assistant captains — Fred Couples, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker — who can stand in for him at daily news conferences or tend to administrative details, the better to free Woods to sharpen his athletic edge.
At the previous Presidents Cup, two years ago at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, no one, including Woods, foresaw his returning in 2019 in an outsize role. Woods was experiencing back pain that made sitting in a cart unpleasant, and he was relegated to an assistant captain’s role under Stricker.
After spending a record 683 weeks as the world No. 1, Woods had fallen to No. 1,142. He had been sidelined from competitive golf for seven months, and he had spoken candidly about his uncertain future.
“I just don’t know what my body is going to allow me to do,” Woods said then.
If Woods had possessed a crystal ball at the time, this is what he would have seen in store for him today: a No. 7 world ranking, three victories in his last 14 worldwide starts and a shot at a 2020 Olympic team berth.
Oh, and a week of moonlighting in Australia against an International team that reflects the way Woods popularized golf in parts of the world that seemed less likely to produce star players before he arrived on the scene. Niemann, 21, will be the first player from Chile in the Presidents Cup; he was drawn to the sport as he grew up watching a brash Woods bash the ball.
He appears to have learned much from the master. Asked what it would be like to face his idol, Woods, in his Presidents Cup debut, Niemann said: “I think he’s going to give me more excitement to win the match.”
Niemann added: “I think it’s going to help me more to focus and try to beat him.”