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Winning isn't everything

Fred Couples
Getty Images

EDISON, N.J. – Everything we ever needed to know about the Presidents Cup has apparently just been answered.

In a pre-practice round interview on Thursday prior to the Boeing Classic, United States captain Fred Couples was asked about including Tiger Woods as a wildcard selection and responded, “I've told him that he's going to be on the team. There is no reason for me to wait till Sept. 26 to pick Tiger. He's the best player in the world forever.'

Well, that’s bad news for those who fear the apocalypse, because “forever” somehow doesn’t include 2011.

This was the season that Woods – 14-time major champion, all-time great – appeared extraordinarily ordinary. Not only did he fail to find the winner’s podium, but his best finish was a share of fourth place at the Masters, he owned just one other top-10 in eight total starts and upon returning from a three-month hiatus due to leg injuries, he finished T-37 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and missed the cut at the PGA Championship, failing to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Woods is clearly undergoing personal, emotional, technical, physical and spiritual changes in his life. The debate as to whether he will return to previous status should be tabled for another time, but for now we can all agree that he isn’t only not at the peak of his game, he isn’t at the peak of any proficient professional’s game.

So why has Couples already backed himself into a corner by going public with the information that Tiger is on the team?

For one very important reason: Because when it comes to the Presidents Cup, winning isn’t the highest priority.

Don’t misunderstand that last sentence. Winning is surely better than losing, but it’s clearly not the most important aspect to rounding out the roster.

If it was, why would Woods be included on the team? Of those currently not on the team, Couples could choose young standouts such as Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley. Or he could go with experience in Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson. All of those players have been trending upward in recent weeks, a sign most captains usually enjoy.

By picking Tiger – who ranks smack dab between Kevin Na and D.A. Points at 28th in the current standings – Freddie won’t necessarily afford his team the best chance to win, but certainly ensures the competition will receive more attention than had he selected any of the aforementioned players.

And therein lies the dirty little secret about the Presidents Cup.

While the Ryder Cup is a storied, ferocious rivalry between country and continent, its less embattled younger cousin is more about pomp and circumstance, professional golf’s version of a hit-and-giggle festival at your local country club.

Don’t believe it? Just ask Lanny Wadkins, who once said of the Presidents Cup, 'Why would I want to travel halfway around the world to play a bunch of guys from Orlando?'

This year’s competition will take place halfway around the world in Australia and with a 16-hour time difference from the Eastern time zone, officials were invariably facing the prospect of a team that could fall Down Under without making a sound in its home country. Throw in the fact that it’s in the middle of football season and there’s an excellent chance that the Presidents Cup would barely move the needle back in the United States’ vast sporting landscape.

Enter the man who – for better or worse – remains the game’s constant needle-mover and all of a sudden, the event may have an opportunity to garner some headlines.

Don’t underestimate the PGA Tour’s influence in this matter, either. Couples is his own captain, of course, but this competition is the baby of those in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., headquarters who have plenty to gain by the added exposure that his presence will bring.

Does all of this mean that Woods can’t or won’t make a positive contribution to the team come November? Absolutely not. But that’s a risk which the captain hopes will be rewarded three months from now.

'Is he playing well right now? No,” Couples said. “[But] he almost won [the Masters] four months ago, so you don't do that by playing poor golf. In my opinion, when you're the best player in the world for 12 straight years and you're not on a team, there's something wrong.”

When that player doesn’t win a single tournament for nearly two years and descends from first in the world ranking to 36th in 10 months, there’s something wrong, too.

Woods’ apparent inclusion on the team may not give the U.S. less of a chance at winning, but it will sting as a slap in the face to players who have accomplished more in recent months and proven themselves to be worthy of such an opportunity.

If this was the Ryder Cup, things may be very different. Granted, Woods was named to the team a year ago when he wasn’t playing his best golf, but he hadn’t sunk to these depths and the team captain owned twice as many wildcard picks.

This is the Presidents Cup, though, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that winning may be placed on the back burner in favor of things like ratings and ticket sales. When it comes to those, apparently Tiger Woods is the right man for the job.