Fred Couples announced a month ago that he was using one of his two Presidents Cup captain’s selections on Tiger Woods. It was a bad choice then, and a worse choice yesterday when he made it official.
“He’s the best player in the world forever,” Couples said on August 25. But that was THAT Tiger Woods. Right now we’ve got THIS Tiger Woods. The one who hasn’t been the best player in the world since November of 2009, and the one who has posted pedestrian numbers on the PGA Tour in 2010 and 2011.
In the last two years, Woods has entered a total of 20 PGA Tour events and finished in the top 10 four times, with a best finish of T4. He was 68th on the money list in 2010 and is 115th this year.
True, his performance has been hampered by injuries. But that’s not much of a point in his defense, because his health is still a question mark and so are his still-evolving swing changes. And even if he’s healthy now, i.e. recovered from the knee and Achilles problems that date from this year’s Masters (not to mention the figurative Achilles heel that sent his career into a nosedive in November of 2009), rust is a big issue.
Woods has played in three events since mid-April, withdrawing after nine holes at the Players when he aggravated his knee injury and then playing mediocre-to-poor golf at the WGC-Bridgestone (T37) and PGA Championship (missed cut). He played the latter two events with little practice time after recovering from injury, probably because he didn’t want to miss a third straight major, but was handed yet another long layoff by the fact that he didn’t play well enough in them to make the FedExCup playoffs.
Woods said yesterday that he’s been getting in lots of practice. That’s all well and good, but he still will enter November’s Presidents Cup with only two tournaments under his belt (next week’s Frys.com Open at California’s CordeValle and the Australian Open the week before the Presidents Cup) in the previous 12 weeks and a swing that is still a work in progress.
Woods does fit the profile of a captain’s pick in that he’s an experienced performer in Presidents and Ryder Cup play. But his presence doesn’t really add a lot—if anything—in the team room, nor has he shown a lot of enthusiasm or an outstanding record in team-play events in his career. At least he should be enthusiastic this time since he’s no doubt itching to get back into the competitive scene.
I don’t think Couples was pressured by the PGA Tour, television, or whoever to pick Woods. I think it was just Freddie being Freddie. He decided that Tiger Woods being what he’s been over the course of his career merited a spot on the Presidents Cup team, and he wasn’t changing his mind.
Woods’ dismal PGA Championship showing and the resulting layoff from missing the FedExCup did cause Couples to waffle only slightly, giving Woods a nudge to commit to a fall event (which turned out to be CordeValle) to be assured of getting the pick.
As it turned out, Couples ended up with two players very deserving of selection—but could only choose one of them since he’d committed prematurely to Woods.
Keegan Bradley’s PGA Championship victory made him the only American to win a major in 2011, and he also won the Byron Nelson. He was at a disadvantage for making the team on points because he’s a rookie and the Presidents Cup uses a two-year system. But Haas was also at a disadvantage because the Tour Championship came a week after the automatic 10 players had been determined, and thus was the only 2010-11 event where points could not be earned.
I don’t really see why the automatic qualifiers weren’t determined after the Tour Championship. That would have put Haas on the team and left Couples with a different kind of choice between Bradley and Jim Furyk, who would have been knocked out of the top 10.
In any case, Haas was a good choice over Bradley for what I consider an overlooked aspect of picking somebody for a Presidents or Ryder Cup team—consistency. People tend to look more at victories, while not considering that whoever is chosen might not be in peak form on the given week of the competition. The consistent player is more reliable because he’s good week in and week out and has a better chance of being a solid performer and winning matches for you. If you catch an up-and-down player on a down week, he could hurt you. Haas made 22 of 26 cuts this year with seven top-10s and Bradley made only 18 of 28 with four top-10s.
Still, it was rough for Bradley. If Haas (or another near-miss American like Brandt Snedeker) hadn’t won the Tour Championship, he probably would have been the pick. And Bradley is a deserving pick over Woods. Not only is Bradley a major winner, he undoubtedly would have been a great teammate. But Couples had already painted himself into a corner.
As for the International picks of Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley, Greg Norman might have raised some eyebrows by saying he wanted to “load up” the team with Australians, but they were good choices.
Norman’s goal wasn’t just to fire up the home crowd with the event being played in Australia, it was to bring in a couple of players who are very familiar with the site, Royal Melbourne. And it happened that he had good Australian candidates, with Allenby 13th in points and Baddeley 14th (ahead of them were only Tim Clark, not available to play because he’s injured, and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, undeserving based on his play this year).
Allenby, with two career wins at Royal Melbourne, a course he has played since he was 12 years old, and a lot of Presidents Cup experience, was an obvious choice. After that, it probably came down to Baddeley and Vijay Singh, who has played in every Presidents Cup and has been playing pretty well in 2011 (15th on the list). Baddeley nailed it down with his T3 at the Tour Championship.
Norman said that he told Baddeley and another Aussie, John Senden (17th in points), that whoever played better at the Tour Championship would get the nod. He also said that Baddeley was the one he wanted on the team all along, so you wonder what would have happened if Senden had finished 22nd in the Tour Championship and Baddeley 23rd. My guess—Norman would have picked Singh.