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Woods still the center of attention

By Will GraySeptember 27, 2017, 7:53 pm

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The gaggle of assistant captains filed into the interview room, first the International contingent and then the Americans. They checked the nameplates in front of each seat to ensure they were lined up correctly, and the microphones were turned on.

It took about 10 seconds for the table spanning the entire room to slant decidedly in the direction of a certain 14-time major champ.

Tiger Woods was the man of the hour during a Q&A session that was designed to be spread across the eight Presidents Cup assistants in the room. Instead, Woods fielded all but five questions from the assembled media – and one of those outliers was directed to Jim Furyk and Fred Couples to gauge the impact of Woods’ participation this week at Liberty National Golf Club.

While the length of his shadow should decrease once a meaningful shot is struck, the impact of Woods’ presence is unmistakable.

“Tiger has spent over the last few years, between the Ryder Cup and here, more time on all the guys on the team as far as his homework and research and what he’s doing, and looking into everything,” said Rickie Fowler. “He spent more time on that than he did homework at Stanford, there’s no question about that.”

It’s the second straight year Woods has hopped off his couch to ride in a cart, and he has spoken often about how his time inside the team room last year at Hazeltine helped fuel his (abbreviated) return to competition. Of course, this year has brought with it some unique adversity for Woods.

Nearly eight months removed from his last competitive golf shot, Woods’ comments Wednesday were his first since undergoing lumbar fusion surgery in April. It was also the first time he stood behind a microphone since his arrest in May for driving under the influence in Florida, which led to a stint in a “private intensive program” to address his use of prescription drugs.

A year that opened with great optimism quickly fell apart both on and off the course, leaving Woods to once again pick up the pieces.

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“I don’t even want to step inside that mind, or how hard it’s been his whole life,” said Charley Hoffman. “I wouldn’t have wanted to be him at the top, and I wouldn’t want to be him now. He’s had struggles all the way up, and I expect him to learn from everything and come out on top, bigger, better and stronger.”

This week offers Woods a coveted glimpse of normalcy. While he’s traded his clubs for an earpiece, he’s still able to walk the course, grind on potential pairings and hone his nickname game. It’s back to “Stricks” and “Pricey” and ping pong matches in the team room, even if only for a few days.

“I enjoy being out there with the guys. I always have,” Woods said. “Most of these guys have come over to the house or practiced at my place, and we’ve had a great time.”

Woods ended his comments with a sobering admission that his playing days may, in fact, be behind him. He remains limited to 60-yard shots and work around the greens, with many physical hurdles still left to cross before he can even assess his competitive options.

In the interim, his presence this week helps to peel back the onion on a figure who many on the American team view more as myth than mortal. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger all spent their formative years with Woods at the height of his power, winning majors seemingly at will. But their chances to compete against him have been scant, meaning opportunities like the one presented this week to bend his ear and receive insight are akin to a rare commodity.

“He was our dominant player, the face of the PGA Tour, and they grew up idolizing him,” said assistant captain Jim Furyk. “Having him here in the team room, and here with those guys, is invaluable.”

After fielding a flurry of questions, Woods sat next to captain Steve Stricker as the opening-day matches were set. He scribbled notes on the paper in front of him, talked in hushed tones with the other assistants and leaned over Stricker’s shoulder like a kid trying to get a peek at the answer key.

Woods won’t hit a shot this week, but he has managed to translate his laser-like focus from the fairways to the team room. In the process, he has seemingly drawn more attention than he did when he occupied the top spot on any 12-man roster.

But judging by the smile that often crept across his face, Woods has embraced his newfound role as advisor  - especially in the wake of a difficult summer and with his playing future still very much in doubt.

“There were times when … I didn’t know if I was going to be able to be here, because I couldn’t ride in a cart. The bouncing just hurt too much,” Woods said. “There were some intrepid times, not just for this golf tournament but for life going forward.” 

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Phil tries to negotiate a shot a side for Tiger match

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 2:58 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Phil Mickelson is probably thankful his long-awaited showdown with Tiger Woods isn’t next week.

He’s not sure it’d be a fair fight.

Last week at the Tour Championship, Woods won his first event in five years while Mickelson finished last in the 30-man field, a whopping 24 strokes behind.

The quality of Woods’ play of late (and Mickelson’s recent struggles) prompted Lefty to begin early negotiations Tuesday at the Ryder Cup.

“I’m trying to negotiate a shot a side,” Mickelson said, chuckling. “It didn’t go over well, but I’m still working on it. I’ve got some negotiating to do, given how well he played last week.”

Right now, Woods is significantly favored (-220) in the match at Shadow Creek.

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Woods: Huge TV ratings 'a big deal' for golf

By Jay CoffinSeptember 25, 2018, 2:56 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods won. Television rating spiked.

The only person surprised about the latter fact was Woods himself.

“I didn’t see the ratings, so I don’t know,” he said Tuesday at the Ryder Cup. “Are they good?”

Well, yes, they were.

NBC Sports’ final-round coverage of Woods’ victory at the Tour Championship on Sunday earned a 5.21 overnight rating, making it the highest-rated telecast in the history of FedExCup Playoffs and the highest-rated PGA Tour telecast this year, excluding majors.

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The rating to watch Woods’ 80th-career PGA Tour win was up 206 percent over last year’s Tour Championship.

“Sorry, I’ve been a little busy, so I haven’t looked,” he said. “If the ratings are, as you said, huge, especially against football on Sunday, you know, in the States, that’s a big deal, and for us to be able to promote golf like that and for me to experience a scene like we had on 18, the people running behind us and getting that excited.”

Coverage peaked from 5:30-6 p.m. ET on Sunday just as Woods was putting the finishing touches on his first victory in over five years. The 7.19 rating during that span trailed only peaks for the Masters (11.03) and PGA Championship (8.28). Live streaming minutes across NBC Sports digital platforms were up 561 percent over 2017.

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Phil on pairing with Tiger: 'I think we'd both welcome it'

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 2:46 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Fourteen years later, Phil Mickelson said that he’d be open to teaming again with Tiger Woods at the Ryder Cup.

“I think we would both welcome it,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “I think we would both welcome it.”

Asked whether he thinks it’ll actually happen, Mickelson smiled. “I do have an idea of what Captain (Jim) Furyk is thinking, yeah.”

It’d be a remarkable pairing – again – for America’s two most popular players.

Captain Hal Sutton infamously put the pair together in 2004 at Oakland Hills, when they were Nos. 1 and 2 in the world and nowhere near as friendly as they are now. They failed spectacularly, going 0-2 en route to a blowout loss by the Americans.

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Earlier this year, during an interview on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive,” Furyk shot down any prospect of a Tiger-Phil pairing. “I hope they’re both watching, because they just fell off the couch laughing,” he said. “I wouldn’t guess that would be a good idea as a captain, I’m just saying.”

The two stars’ relationship has improved dramatically over the past few years, beginning with the decision to put both on the Ryder Cup task force. During that time together, Mickelson said, “we realized that we both have a lot more in common than we thought, and I think we both have really come to appreciate working together to achieve things.”

They’ve worked together so well, and so often now, that Woods and Mickelson will now play in a pay-per-view, 18-hole match during Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas.

Though Furyk said that the practice-round groups Tuesday were focused more on putting players who hadn’t seen Le Golf National with at least one who has, there were some obvious partnerships who went out together.

Woods was grouped with Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed. Rounding out the foursome? Mickelson.

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Tiger Tracker: 42nd Ryder Cup

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 25, 2018, 1:15 pm

Fresh off his 80th PGA Tour victory at the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods is competing in his first Ryder Cup since 2012. We're tracking him.