Tiger Woods proves he cares about Ryder Cup

ByBOB HARIG
November 18, 2015, 6:15 PM

— -- The initial shock having subsided, the thought of Tiger Woods driving a golf cart around Hazeltine National next September as a vice captain now in focus, one thing quickly became clear: so much for the notion that Woods is not invested in the Ryder Cup.

For a myriad of reasons, that narrative took shape in some circles, perhaps because Woods has played on just one winning U.S. Ryder Cup team, he has a losing overall record and there was a time early in his career when he, possibly, did not completely buy into team golf.

But Wednesday's surprising announcement from captain Davis Love III that Woods would serve under him at the Ryder Cup along with Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk should answer any and all such questions about his commitment.

To agree to do this now, 10 months before the competition, with plenty of conjecture concerning Woods' own playing career as he recovers from another back surgery, his 40th birthday approaching, speaks volumes.

Being a vice captain is a rather thankless and mundane gig. Will Woods be picking up towels and making sandwiches? It is not the bright lights and glamour associated with Woods, a 14-time major champion whose ability to compete at a high level anytime soon or in the future remains very much in doubt.

Woods would love nothing more than to play in the Ryder Cup, and said as much in a statement released Wednesday at the RSM Classic, where Love is the tournament host and made the announcement.

But he easily could have waited. He could have told Love he'd like to see how he feels after another back surgery has his return to competition a mystery. Or he could have passed on the idea altogether, simply saying it is not yet time for him to take on such a role.

Nobody would have been surprised had Love named Stricker and Furyk, with Woods' situation to be determined at a later date, if at all. There is nothing that says Woods need be a vice captain, ever.

"This is something I want to do," Woods said in a statement. "I will continue to do whatever I can to help win the Cup back. Once I'm fully healthy, I'd like to try to make the team, too, but either way, I'm very excited to work with Davis, the other vice-captains and the players to get a U.S. victory."

Woods would have to be considered a long shot to make the team at this point. He is 36th in points based on his tie-for-17th finish at the Masters, but will be on the sideline when the chase for positions begins in earnest in January. The top eight players through the Barclays will secure a spot, with Love getting four at-large selections. So much is unknown at this point concerning Woods' ability to play, let alone play well.

But he made it clear to Love that he wanted help, even texting him in his role as an assistant captain at the Presidents Cup last month.

"Tiger has said, 'I want to make the team and I want to be a captain,'" Love said. "Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, same thing. Tiger wants to be a playing assistant. That's his goal. I think Tiger is so excited about it. You saw at the Presidents Cup, he was calling and texting us, wanting to know what was going on."

Woods was part of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force that was formed in the wake of another U.S. defeat to Europe in 2014 that helped select Love as captain and changed the number of automatic qualifiers as well as the selection dates.

The task force was disbanded when Love was named captain, replaced by a Ryder Cup committee comprised of Love, Woods, Phil Mickelson and three PGA of America executives. (Don't be surprised to see Mickelson named the fifth assistant if he is unable to make the team.)

In keeping with the new American philosophy -- somewhat stolen from the Europeans -- Love is trying to establish continuity. Lehman was the 2006 U.S. captain. Furyk and Stricker have been longtime players, with Stricker an assistant at Gleneagles and again at the Presidents Cup, where Furyk also was an assistant due to an injury that kept him from playing. (Furyk is ranked ninth in the world and 10th in Ryder Cup points.) The latter two are likely candidates for a future captaincy.

And so is Woods, who apparently is willing to do the dirty work of an assistant captain now to prove he cares.

It's unprecedented, really. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson ... none of those legends ever served as an assistant Ryder Cup captain. They were given the job as captain based on their playing careers, and nobody flinched.

That Woods is willing to take a subservient role at this point sends a message of allegiance. Taking drink orders and offering tidbits of wisdom might not seem like Woods' style, but that is what he has signed up to do.

Unless, of course, his own healing powers and a resurgent game make for a far different Ryder Cup story.

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