WOODS & ELS NAMED 2019 PRESIDENTS CUP CAPTAINS
Two of golf's biggest icons set to rekindle ndle the magic of the 2003 tie ie in South Africa.
There they were, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, arguably the best players in the world, sparring back and forth as the South African sun began to dim. It could be the iconic moment in the storied history of the Presidents Cup, the two titans of golf refusing to acquiesce as they traded pars into the night. The unlikeliest of ties ending with the unlikeliest of results Captains Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus declaring neither side a loser, and thus the only draw in the history of the competition. Now begins Round Two. Woods and Els have been named captains of the 2019 Presidents Cup, and a chance to follow up on that incredible moment in 2003. The latest edition of the Presidents Cup is set for December 9-15, 2019, at the Melbourne Golf Club in Australia.
For Woods, the selection represents a goal to strive for potential qualification as a player in his return to the game. For Els, it's an opportunity to get the International Team back on the winning side of this competition.
For both, a chance at a rematch of that fateful Sunday evening 15 years ago.
“I thought I had him beat for once,” recalled Els, who has finished runner-up to Woods in seven tournaments, including two majors, the most of any player. “He had a left-to-right putt, four foot of break seemed like and in darkness. I had a pretty straight one going up the hill. But I really thought maybe this time he was going to miss one. But he poured it in. And so I think it could have gone on for a couple of hours more.”
Fifteen years later, Woods can still recall the playoff in vivid detail.
“We were talking about that then and there that night for a very long period of time with certain libations and we couldn't believe the amount of pressure we felt and we both had won Major Championships, but nothing felt like that,” he said. “… As I was lining up my putt I had to see this entire hillside of red and this entire team right in my line. And so I know if I miss, we lose. It became a reality.”
The announcement of Woods as captain came on the heels of his T2-place finish at the Valspar Championship, his best finish since 2013. The performance helped lift him to 43rd in the FedExCup Standings and 149th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His steady return to prominence following spinal fusion surgery began with a 12th-place finish at The Honda Classic in mid-February and a 23rd-place finish at the Farmers Insurance Open. He remains in search of that elusive 80th career PGA TOUR victory, but his odds appear to be as good as ever.
“He had a left-to-right putt, four foot of break seemed like and in darkness. I had a pretty straight one going up the hill. But I really thought maybe this time he was going to miss one"
Woods will be 43 years old, nearing 44, when the 2019 Presidents Cup gets underway, making him the youngest captain in the history of the event, regardless of team. David Graham set the mark in 1994 at 48 years old for the International Team, while U.S. Captain Hale Irwin was just behind him the same year at 49 years of age.
Irwin played that year, the last time the Presidents Cup had a playing captain, going 2-1 for the U.S. in a 20-12 victory over the International Team. Paul Azinger, a captain's assistant at the time, essentially assumed the role of captain with Irwin playing, though Irwin remained in the official role.
Whether Woods changes that remains to be seen.
“As Hale Irwin showed in 1994, qualifying as a playing captain is certainly possible,” Woods noted. “With that said, it's way too early to discuss hypotheticals like that. At this point, I'm going to focus my efforts on being the best captain that I can be. If we get closer to the event and this becomes an issue, we can address it at that time.”
Of course, Woods who served as a captain's assistant in 2017 could qualify on sheer merit. Following completion of the 2019 TOUR Championship, the top eight players in the FedExCup Standings and the OWGR will be eligible for the U.S. and International teams, respectively, a change from the top 10 players in previous Presidents Cups.
That means Woods and Els will have four captains' picks instead of the usual two. Each captain's selections will be made at a tobe-determined date closer to the Presidents Cup.
“If you look at what's happening in the game right now internationally, you've got HaoTong Li inside the top-40 in the world from China, Shubhankar Sharma from India who has played exceedingly well,” PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan said. “We don't know who is going to come forward between now and then, but it's likely that stars from new countries are going to come forward with Ernie Els and Tiger Woods leading their respective teams. So I think it's just going to take the game deeper and wider than it's ever been, and it's going to continue on the progression of reaching all the markets throughout the world in a powerful way.”
Selection format is one of two minor rule changes for 2019. Each player will also play a minimum of one match prior to the final-round singles matches, a change from years past where players were required to play twice during the same timeframe.
The U.S. holds a 10-1-1 record all-time in the Presidents Cup, that lone tie coming in that 2003 playoff duel between Woods and Els. The International Team's only victory in the series came in 1998, also at the Royal Melbourne. This will be the third time in the biennial event's 25-year history it has taken place at the renowned Sandbelt course, as it was also held there in 2011.
If anyone can reverse the International Team's fortunes in this event, it's likely Els, who brings a decorated resume in the Presidents Cup to his first-time role as captain. He has competed in the event eight times, tied for most by an International Team member with Vijay Sing and Adam Scott.
An assistant in 2017, he has long been viewed to take over the mantle from three-time captain Nick Price.
“As an International Team it's a home field game for us, so we would like to think that we're going to have the majority of the support,” Els said. “But as Tiger said earlier, it's a global sport, kids heroes are their heroes, whether they're American, South African, Australian, Chinese, they're going to support the hero and we're fine with that. I think momentum is a big part in match play, team sport, I think if we can get some putts moving our direction into the hole, like we did in 1998, I think the crowd can really get behind us a little bit more.”
Woods and Els have combined for 97 PGA TOUR victories, including 20 World Golf Championships events and 18 major championship titles, with 59 additional wins internationally.
There are perhaps no better players to represent the game on a global stage.
“We have been a part of it from the very beginning, Ernie and myself,” Woods said. “And we have seen it grow, we have seen it get bigger, and the fact that we can now be a part of it from a different side is going to be very exciting for both of us, especially given our history of battling each other for the past 20 plus years it's going to be able to fun to do it from a different perspective.”
(T-B) International Team member Ernie Els of South Africa reacts to Tiger Woods on the 9th hole after halving the hole on his way to a 4 and 3 loss during the final round of the President's Cup at The Links at Fancourt on November 23, 2003 in George,...
Gary Player, Captain of The International team and Jack Nicklaus, Captain of the USA team after they agree to share The Presidents Cup. November 23, 2003