USA TODAY US Edition

Tiger must pick Tiger for Presidents Cup

- Adam Schupak

Tiger Woods is going to suit up and play, not just make the lineup card, as captain for Team USA at the Presidents Cup in December.

This is as much of a sure thing as Woods closing out a 54-hole hole lead with a three-stroke cushion as he did Monday in the Zozo Championsh­ip in Japan. He’s now 25-for-25 in such situations. When asked if his play made a good impression for his chances of a captain’s pick, he smiled and said, “I think the player definitely got the captain’s attention.”

Playing captain is an absolute gimme. Do we want cake on our birthday? Are we going to quit our job when we win the lottery? Does Tiger Woods have to pick Tiger Woods as one of his four captain’s picks? Yes, yes, and a resounding yes.

Really, all he had to do was show his game had a pulse in the Japan Skins and Zozo Championsh­ip. Prove to himself that he physically could manage playing on his surgically repaired left knee and there was always going to be a spot reserved with his name on it. This is The Presidents Cup. It needs Tiger. It yearns for Tiger. Who was going to stay up late at night in December to watch this biennial pillow fight with the Internatio­nal Team other than golf die-hards and the architectu­ral geeks swooning over a chance to see Royal Melbourne on the boob tube?

Or to put it another way, do you want to go see a film directed by Clint Eastwood or one he also stars in? We want to see that steely gaze and hear him utter his next memorable phrase, right? Well, do ya, punk? Of course, we do.

In a dream scenario for the PGA Tour, Woods had sports fans in prime time either flipping away or relegating Fox’s broadcast of Game 5 of the World Series and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” between two of this season’s titans – the Chiefs and Packers – to second-screen status. Only Tiger can do that. When Reggie Jackson described himself as the straw that stirs the drink, he came off as brash and cocky. With Tiger, it’s not talk, it’s fact. Still, only his biggest cheerleade­rs are going to stay up and be satisfied seeing Tiger with an earpiece and patting Dustin Johnson on the behind for encouragem­ent.

Nine weeks off and post-surgery, there was no rust in Tiger’s game once he got over three bogeys on his first three holes. Are we surprised? Kind of.

Almost from the moment Tiger tapped in to win the Masters, he was a different player. It was as if he made a deal with the devil for one more major. You knew something was wrong when he skipped playing practice rounds ahead of the PGA Championsh­ip in May and stopped hitting full-swing shots during his pro-am at The Northern Trust in August.

He looked old and tired, and when I asked one player at the Safeway Open if Tiger would win another major, he

flashed a devilish smile and said, “Yeah … on the Champions Tour.” Burn!

But if we’ve learned anything, it’s never to doubt Tiger.

“His biggest strength you can’t see,” former instructor Butch Harmon once said. “It’s inside of him. It’s his heart. It’s his desire to win. I’ve never met anyone who all he thinks about is winning. … He has the uncanny ability to pull himself up under any situation.”

Another knee surgery – No. 5 for those scoring at home – brought fresh concern whether his playing days might be short-lived. But to watch Tiger’s masterful performanc­e in Japan flipped the narrative again. It’s like he took his body into the auto shop for a 100,000mile checkup and they changed the oil, rotated the tires and rolled back the odometer for good measure. Woods opened with three rounds of 66 or better for just the fourth time in his career. He played 29 holes on Sunday until play was suspended due to darkness, wiping away any concerns about his endurance. He is the reigning Masters champion and has now won three of his last 14 starts. He answered all the questions about whether he’s fit to play at the Presidents Cup.

The better question might be this: Should Woods play in the Hero World Challenge, his hit-’n’-giggle 18-man money grab that will be held in the Bahamas the week prior to the team competitio­n? Remember how spent he looked at the Ryder Cup after winning the Tour Championsh­ip one week earlier? I don’t care how luxurious his flight to Melbourne will be – jet lag is undefeated and there’s nothing good about spending 15+ hours on a plane when you have a surgically repaired back.

Maybe Woods should sit that one out and play a ceremonial role so that’s he fresh and ready to perform at the Presidents Cup. He won’t make his captain’s picks official until Nov. 4, but choosing himself is a stone-cold lock. Or as Eastwood’s greatest character, Detective Harry Callahan, would utter, Go ahead, Tiger, make our day.

 ?? CHUNG SUNG-JUN/GETTY IMAGES ?? Tiger Woods won’t make his captain’s Presidents Cup picks official until Nov. 4.
CHUNG SUNG-JUN/GETTY IMAGES Tiger Woods won’t make his captain’s Presidents Cup picks official until Nov. 4.

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