ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For a guy who needs no help padding the résumé, Wednesday’s Ryder Cup announcement qualifies as a bona fide bombshell.
Tiger Woods – who by his own assessment still has plenty of miles ahead of him on the competitive highway – was named one of Davis Love III’s five vice captains for next year’s matches, along with Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.
Although Woods is certainly qualified for the job, the honor sticks out as on oddity on the not-yet-40-year-old's list of achievements – 14-time major champion, 79-time PGA Tour winner, short-list candidate for G.O.A.T., and now ... golf cart driver.
To be fair, given the intensity of this year’s Ryder Cup process, which began with the creation of a task force last year, golf cart driver doesn’t begin to do the job justice; but it is a stark sign of the times for the former world No. 1.
“I’ve been around him so much and seen all the phenomenal golf he’s played. I never could have imagined him being an assistant and not playing, to be honest,” Charles Howell III said Wednesday at the RSM Classic. “Circle of life, I guess. He still hasn’t not qualified yet. Remember that.”
Howell’s double negative aside, Wednesday’s news opened a new chapter in the Woods tale. After seven Ryder Cup appearances and a 13-17-3 record, it’s difficult to imagine Tiger is ready for a non-playing role. And that's because he isn't.
In that sense, there is a danger in reading too much into Wednesday’s news, as evidenced by Woods’ potentially complex role on the U.S. team.
“He wants to play and be a vice captain. He wants to be the leader of his group, whoever that is, of guys that he's going to probably play with,” Love said. “Tiger is very capable of doing that.”
Love said Woods, who has been accused of being uncommitted and uninterested when it comes to America’s biennial team matches, started the drumbeat for his involvement as early as last December at one of the initial task force meetings, stressing his desire to be engaged with the process - even if that meant serving as a vice captain.
That dedication spilled over at last month’s Presidents Cup, as Woods became the quintessential armchair quarterback.
“I was surprised. It was 5:30 in the morning and Fred [Couples] told me, ‘Tiger wants you to call him,’” Love recalled. “He’s not getting to play, so he’s excited and he wants to help. He wants to win. He wants to be in the mix. He doesn’t want to be sitting at home.”
While this does little to clarify Woods’ competitive future, his commitment to the U.S. team over the past 12 months should finally quiet the notion that he doesn’t care about America’s team fortunes.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions that we see out there is all he cares about are his personal records,” Zach Johnson said. “I'm not suggesting he doesn't care about them. That's not what I'm getting at. But he is passionate about the cups, specifically about the Ryder Cup.
“So, when you have, in my opinion, the best player that I've ever played with as a guy inside your team room, regardless if he's playing or not, that's huge.”
Howell echoed those sentiments, remembering his first start at the Presidents Cup, when he was paired with Woods in 2003.
“He was a really big calming influence,” Howell said. “He was like, ‘Charles, it’s OK. It’s just golf.’ If he’s not playing, I think he’ll be a fantastic vice captain.”
In a perfect world, Woods would do both – play and provide a level of insight and inspiration that can only come from a player with his résumé.
While the latter is assured thanks to Love’s announcement Wednesday, the former remains very much in down. Woods has dropped to 384th in the world rankings and has exactly one top-10 finish on the Tour in two years, but Love suggested Woods has started the road to recovery and has penciled in Sept. 27, 2016 as a date worth keeping.
“I talked to him several times over the last few weeks about his back, how he's feeling, how he's playing, or how he's practicing,” Love said. “He's excited about it. He wants to make the team. Don't mistake that's his No. 1 goal.”
It’s hard to imagine that it would be the Ryder Cup – the one event throughout his Hall of Fame career that has, at least outwardly, seemed to be an afterthought – that may jolt Woods back to competitive reality, back to a place that was once so familiar via a job that seems so foreign.