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For spice, add Tiger

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Regardless of how Tiger Woods performs at next month’s Presidents Cup, his ability to generate advance publicity for the event cannot go unnoticed. His presence at Royal Melbourne has become invaluable from a commercial standpoint, although Woods himself hasn’t done a thing – on or off the golf course – to promote the big showdown between the Americans and Internationals right before Thanksgiving.

If Eldrick Almighty was coming off another six-win, major-or-two season, nobody would pay attention to the Presidents Cup until the week prior to the matches. By playing so poorly for so long, however, Tiger has become a conversation piece, a lightning rod, a controversy in a red shirt. It’s all rather funny when you examine the news trail since U.S. captain Fred Couples initially started talking in June about using a wild-card pick on Woods.

From immediate questions about Couples’ leap of faith to International skipper Greg Norman’s recent comments that he wouldn’t have chosen Woods, everything has been framed in negative connotations. You would think the 14-time major champion is now playing off a 14 handicap, but that is what makes the subplot so sexy – such an irresistible lure. The fallen star has been given a free pass, recent performance be damned, and so the Freddies will face the Sharkies and all serious golf fans will have to get out of bed in the middle of the night and tune in to see whether the New Tiger or the Old Tiger made it to Australia.

It’s good stuff. Certainly enough to drive the pre-Prez Cup publicity wagon, as this event serves nicely as a Ryder Cup knockoff but still feels somewhat contrived. The 2007 and 2009 gatherings quickly turned into U.S. blowouts, with Woods playing very well in both, but that was then, this is now, and half the junkies are having a cow because Woods is on the team.

Norman said he wouldn’t have taken Tiger. Couples responded by pointing out that Robert Allenby, an International captain’s pick, hasn’t won a PGA Tour event in 10 years. A little conflict never hurt anyone, particularly a month before anyone sticks a peg in the ground. It’s up to the captains to dictate the competitive terms of any team-match event, and this time, the terms have legs. If Red Shirt had come back from his leg issues and immediately started winning majors again, the story wouldn’t be half as good.

Perhaps it is human nature to herald a man’s rise to greatness, cheer his fall, then go bananas when he begins the long comeback. The change of scenery makes for increased interest; and with Woods having already failed on a couple of attempts to get his resurgence airborne, the slow-moving suspense only gets stronger. The gimpy knee, the deposed caddie, the embattled swing coach – we’re talking about a Dan Jenkins novel in living, breathing color, the final few chapters still to be written.

More than anyone, Norman seems to understand all this. The Shark has always been brilliant with the media, intelligent and ultra-opinionated, and over the years, he has turned bold-faced quotes into a successful industry. The laid-back Couples serves as the perfect sidekick, and with his Yanks heading Down Under off back-to-back routs, Red Shirt in tow, the table is set but the forks and knives are all over the place.

Thanksgiving comes a few days early this year. Keep an eye on the turkey who has trouble hitting fairways. The one with the bull’s-eye on his back.