Woods to be Ryder Cup 'secret weapon' for U.S.

CHASKA, Minn.--Tiger Woods. Made you look. Still. Without so much as swinging a golf club or speaking publicly, Woods has emerged as a secret weapon for Team USA's Ryder Cup bid this month in Minnesota. Woods, one of the team's vice captains, is ...

Tiger Woods speaks to the crowd after the final round of the Quicken Loans National golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, this past June. Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

CHASKA, Minn.-Tiger Woods.

Made you look. Still.

Without so much as swinging a golf club or speaking publicly, Woods has emerged as a secret weapon for Team USA's Ryder Cup bid this month in Minnesota.

Woods, one of the team's vice captains, is the team tactician, strategist, stats geek, epic texter of ideas, and might even have a role as chief intimidating officer/cheerleader when play gets underway Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska.

That's according to team Captain Davis Love III and others like Phil Mickelson, who appear pleasantly surprised by the insight Woods has brought behind the scenes-and equally impressed by his choices of what not to do publicly.


"He's been amazingly involved," Love said Monday. "He's been very thoughtful in the way that he's handled the Tiger Woods factor of being an influence but also being a distraction."

Love's comments came at Hazeltine, where Woods could have showed up and created a media sideshow, as he remains arguably the most charismatic and electrifying figure in the sport.

"He's gone out of his way to not come here," Love said. "It would have created a stir if Tiger Woods had shown up."

Woods wanted to attend a recent promotional event with the New England Patriots, Love said, "But it would have created a firestorm, a stir that he knew would have been bad for the team. He's doing what he can to make it easier on the team."

To recap, especially for non-golf fans:

Twenty years ago last month, Woods turned pro, ushering in a new era of golf interest, merchandising, TV ratings and, bluntly put, money. (If you're a non-golf fan, you became a golf fan during Tiger's first 10 years, as he rose to dominance.)

About the time a new generation of golf talent caught up to Woods, in 2009 his star crashed in a tabloid tale of serial adultery, followed by a period during which lackluster play was punctuated by a romance with Minnesota's own Lindsay Vonn. (Good for web traffic, but bad for golf TV ratings.)

Woods was announced as a Ryder Cup vice captain-and it was presumed he would play. But for more than a year, he hasn't played competitively at all as he recovers from two back surgeries. The result: Golf has continued its post-Woods hangover, with Tiger-associated brands like Nike announcing it will scale back its golf products.


Not that anyone's counting, but today Woods is ranked 726th in the world. Yet the web was alight with interested last week, when Woods announced he plans to return to golf two weeks after the Ryder Cup.

Until that announcement, Woods had done little to make news, although to hear Love and Mickelson tell it, he's been plenty busy.

In an interview earlier this week with the Golf Channel, Mickelson gave Woods credit for helping to craft what he called "a real game plan," implicitly an improvement over past U.S. Ryder Cup strategies.

"We know who is going to be playing with who, when they're going to be playing, what matches," Mickelson said. "I am so happy to see how well (Woods) has thought this through. I can't believe our conversations just this week, how detailed he is and the pairings, the possibilities, the players. Not just what matches they're going to play, but where on the list. He has got us really a good, solid game plan that is easy to buy into and get behind. I'm very impressed."

Team USA heads into this Ryder Cup with unprecedented pressure to win. Europe has won the past three Ryder Cups and eight of the past 10, but officials with PGA of America and Love have been plotting since 2014 to reverse the trend. Among the strategies the team has confronted: data-based analysis of players, how they contrast and complement each other, and how they might fare against European players at Hazeltine.

Woods has embraced the statistics-based approach, according to Love, and combined it with his strategic approach to the golf course.

"You know, Tiger looks at things from maybe a little bit higher viewpoint than all of us sometimes," Love said, adding later that Woods was among the first to explain the nuances of Hazeltine's notoriously long track. "Everybody just automatically thinks: 'Just look at the scorecard. It's a really long course. We need long hitters.' Tiger looks at it a whole lot differently than that. Tiger over the last two or three weeks has made us really think hard about not only pairings but other things that we need to look for in our players. He's taken the stats package that we get and breaks it down to what we really need."

In fact, it's possible that Tiger the "tactician," as Love repeatedly has called him, needed to be far from the spotlight and frenzy of weekly competition to come into his own.


"I look at everything as a blessing," Love said. "My surgery, my time off and his time off has given us an incredible amount of time on the phone, texting organizing, sending pictures back and forth of pairings and groupings. It's been great for both of us."

As for Woods' star power-and the related wish of the PGA of America to create a buzz for the Ryder Cup and golf in general-there's a plan cooking there as well.

"We think people are gonna be watching him watch golf," Love said. "We know this is gonna be different. It's a lot different than Davis Love being the assistant captain for Corey Pavin. I can fly under the radar. ... We have to do a little more planning for Tiger. ... We're gonna have to put him on a leash."

You mean, a leash as in, let the attack dog charge out, resplendent in Team USA (and Tiger Sunday signature) red, and intimidate some young European when we need some mojo?

Sounds like maybe.

"Just his presence is gonna buoy our team," Love said. "If he's standing there and says, 'Hey, we just made a birdie. Go get em!' That's gonna be unbelievable."

Sensing perhaps that the media is always interested in a good Tiger Woods angle, Matt Kuchar briefly hijacked Monday's news conference with a level of (presumably joking) speculation that nonetheless garnered its share of coverage.

"This is hearsay, but I heard maybe even Tiger Woods could potentially be a pick," a smirking Kuchar said via Skype. "That would be legend. Ary. Legendary. That's just hearsay. It could strictly be rumor. ... But gosh, imagine that: Tiger Woods playing for Team USA, being a captain, that would be incredible."

Later, Love was asked by a reporter, "you know, just for the record," if there was any real chance Woods could be picked as Love's final captain's pick for the 12th player Sept. 25.

Love laughed. But didn't actually rule it out.

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