MELBOURNE, Australia – Tiger Woods on the tee wearing an American flag instead of a swoosh. Steve Williams right there with him, standing guard over a bag. It might look like any of the previous 44 times they were together in a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup.
Far from it.
The feature match in the opening session Thursday at Royal Melbourne took on qualities of a sideshow when captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman allowed Woods to be placed opposite his jilted caddie in the Presidents Cup.
“I think it’s great for the tournament,” Norman said. “It needed to be done.”
The most compelling matches of any Cup competition usually don’t happen until Sunday singles. And they’re usually about two players with clubs in their hands, not a guy who is carrying the bag.
On paper, the sixth and final foursomes match will be Woods and Steve Stricker, a tandem that went undefeated two years ago, against K.J. Choi and Adam Scott, the popular Australian who hired Williams after he was fired by Woods this summer.
The firing alone is not enough to make a Woods-Williams reunion the least bit interesting. Caddies get fired all the time, even those who have been at the side of a player who won 72 times and 13 majors in their 12 years together.
It’s the soap opera that led to so much speculation until the pairings were announced Wednesday.
They disputed publicly whether the firing was done over the phone or face-to-face. Williams gave one of more incredible TV interviews after Scott won the Bridgestone Invitational, calling it “the best win of my life.”
And then came the Shanghai surprise. Williams was getting roasted at a caddies award dinner two weeks ago when he was asked about his TV interview in Akron. He responded by saying he wanted to “shove it up that black (expletive).”
Amid accusations of racism, Williams apologized. Scott said that was enough for him not to discipline his caddie, and so did golf executives. Woods accepted the apology last week, and bailed out his old caddie by saying Williams was not a racist. He said they ran into each other in the gym in Sydney and shook hands.
But it remained such a topic that both captains felt it was best to get it out of the way.
Couples and Norman said the pairing was not planned, though that rang hollow. In the Presidents Cup, captains take turns filling out the lineup for every match, so both captains had ample opportunity to make sure Woods was not in the same match as Scott.
The last chance fell to Couples.
Norman put K.T. Kim and Y.E. Yang in the fifth match. Couples inserted Hunter Mahan and David Toms. That left only one team available for the sixth match, and U.S. assistant captain Jay Haas broke up the room when he said, “Who’s left?”
At the opening ceremony Wednesday afternoon, Couples said of the opening session, “You’re going to see six great matches.”
Yet it was the one match that grabbed everyone’s attention.
Williams has taken such a public beating since Shanghai that he likely will think of nothing but wind direction, yardage, hole location and helping Scott pick the right club. Woods doesn’t like to bring much attention to anything but his golf, either.
Any fireworks would be a surprise, and everyone involved – Woods, Williams and even Scott – are ready to move on.
“I’m sure Freddie and I – everybody – we want to put this behind us,” Norman said. “It’s a dead issue as far as we’re concerned. There’s no animosity between any of the players. I know it’s good fodder. People like to talk about it in the media. But from our perspective, it’s dead and gone. And we would like to keep that way going forward.”
Even so, it became a talking point once the pairings were announced.
“That’s going to be interesting, isn’t it?” Robert Allenby said. “I think there will be a lot of media out there.”
“You can kind of see it coming, with what’s been going on recently,” Nick Watney said. “I think it’s great. I think it will definitely add some drama to the matches, and I know that they will both be ready. So it should be a good match.”
Woods might have other things to worry about, anyway.
He now has gone two full years without a win anywhere in the world, though he comes to Royal Melbourne having finished alone in third at the Australian Open – his best finish against a full field since he last won down the street at Kingston Heath. This is his first Cup when he had to rely on a captain’s pick. In the days leading up to the matches, no one looked at him that way. He’s still Tiger Woods.
“Pre-tournament fashion, Tiger never really shows a lot of stress, whether it be as an individual or whether as a teammate,” Jim Furyk said. “It’s not that he looks nonchalant, but he never looks flustered. Even he’s playing poorly, he doesn’t look flustered.”
In the middle of this mess is Scott, who has said that it’s up to Woods and Williams to sort out their friendship, or lack of one. Scott grew up in Queensland, though his primary home is now Switzerland. How fitting.
Norman said he at least talked to Scott ahead of time, along with his two assistants. And while the Shark said this was not premeditated, it sure sounded as though he had a master plan.
“If we had to defuse anything and just get this thing over and done with, wouldn’t you rather have it sooner than later?” Norman said. “Because I personally wouldn’t have wanted to be sitting down at the singles and everybody is playing a really tight match and it comes down to the last group or the second to last group, and all of this pressure is coming on because it’s the first time the two met.”
“Adam and Tiger are good friends,” Norman said. “It’s got nothing to do with Adam and Tiger, and at the end of the day, the atmosphere that will exist walking to the first tee will be exactly the same if none of this took place in the past week.”
Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Wednesday 9PM-2AM, Thursday 7:30PM-2AM, Friday 3PM-2AM and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)