ORLANDO, Fla. – Little in Tiger Woods’ life comes without a caveat.
He’s widely considered the game’s greatest player, although Jack Nicklaus did win four more majors. Many would contend that gap is a mere formality, if Tiger remains healthy. You get the idea.
So it should be no surprise that news on Tuesday that Woods had been named captain of the 2019 U.S. Presidents Cup team was met with a predictable proviso.
“A playing captain,” Lucas Glover answered when asked what kind of captain Woods would be. After a pause, he clarified, “He’ll be a playing captain.”
Woods will be 43 when the American team heads to Royal Melbourne for next year’s matches in December, and although he’s nearly five years removed from his last victory on the PGA Tour, the consensus among Tiger’s peers was layered with one common theme.
“He’ll probably be a playing captain the way it looks now,” Charles Howell III said.
A few weeks ago some may have called that kind of optimism misplaced considering Woods’ scorecard the last few years, but he’s emerged as a viable candidate to become the U.S. side’s first playing captain in the biennial matches since 1994 and he said nothing on Tuesday at Bay Hill to suggest he’s interested in any other outcome.
In fact, he went so far as to bring it up in what we can only assume was an exceedingly abbreviated interview for the job with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.
“I just wondered if that was an opportunity and he said that there's nothing in the bylaws that say that I can't do it,” Woods said, before adding, “I would like to get to a point where I would have to make that decision, get to where I'm playing well enough where I could make the team on points. But I wouldn't want to have the conversation [to be a captain’s pick] and go, ‘Self.’ I don't really want to have that conversation.”
If anyone could pull off moonlighting it would be Woods, who has taken an active role in U.S. team play in recent years. He was an assistant captain for Davis Love III at the 2016 Ryder Cup and last year at the Presidents Cup. He’s also on tap to be one of Jim Furyk’s vice captains this year in Paris, which he also suggested could well be a playing gig.
In many ways this is a new chapter for Woods, who electrified the golf world last week with his runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship. While his playing fortunes continue to improve, his decision to take his turn as captain of the U.S. team, be it as a playing skipper or otherwise, is born from a side of his greatness that has gone largely unseen.
Simply put, Woods’ attention to detail is every bit as acute as his focus and fierce competitiveness.
“He gives so much more thought into the details than people could ever imagine. He’s really into it, much more into it than you could believe,” said Howell, who was a teammate of Woods’ on the 2003 and ’07 Presidents Cup teams. “I think people are just getting a glimpse of it. The years when we were hanging out together he didn’t miss a trick.”
The golf world has seen tidbits of that zeal throughout the years that may well border on the obsessive, but it’s a side of him that makes Tiger particularly well-suited to lead a team with endless moving parts.
“Just the intensity, the knowledge. He does his homework. That’s one of the attributes he never gets credit for is how much he works off the course,” said Glover, a teammate of Woods’ at the ’07 and ’09 Presidents Cups. “The stories of him watching Masters tapes to see how putts break, he’s going to do his homework on the guys and know their personalities and know who plays well in what format.”
Woods’ intensity has become particularly legendary in his role as an assistant captain in recent years.
At last year’s Presidents Cup, he spent countless hours poring over details with Stricker, and at the ’16 Ryder Cup then-captain Love figured he spent more time on the phone with Woods in the months leading up to the matches than he did with his wife.
“His knowledge about certain golf shots, about certain feelings, what you are going through,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played for the ’16 Ryder Cup team that included Woods as a vice captain. “The ability to say something completely off the wall when you need something off the wall, and the ability to hear something encouraging when you need something encouraging, he’s a way better communicator than people give him credit for.”
Whether Woods will be able to pull off the double role of playing captain remains to be seen, but what’s certain is how adept he’s already proven himself as a leader.