By Ann Liguori
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Tiger Woods, one of four assistant captains for the U.S. Team in the Presidents Cup, was in the interview room Wednesday. It was the first time he was in front of the golf media since his May arrest in Florida for driving under the influence, which led to some time in a rehab center to address his use of prescription drugs.
It didn’t matter that all eight of the assistant captains from both teams were up on the podium as well. It didn’t matter that the Presidents Cup, a team, match-play competition featuring 12 of the top U.S. golf professionals against 12 of the top international players, is set to begin at 1.05 p.m. Thursday at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey, and that the pairings for the first foursome matches were about to be announced.
Most of the questions were directed toward the 14-time major champion.
I’ve been saying for years that Woods’ continuing back issues do not bode well for his return to golf. On Wednesday, he was asked if he could see a scenario in which he could not come back to competitive golf, and he replied: “Yeah, definitely. I don’t know what my future holds for me.”
Before that, a reporter asked, if he could get his body 100 percent healthy again, did he believe he could become the best golfer in the world again? Tiger’s reply made the most sense I’ve heard in a long time about his condition after so many surgeries: “I don’t know what 100 percent means after eight surgeries, but I’ll try to get as close as I can to that number, yes. But as I said, we just take it one step at a time. It’s a process, and I’m in no hurry.”
It was certainly a different sounding Tiger Woods, one more resigned to the fact that his competitive playing days are probably over. It looked and sounded like he had accepted that. Whether other people have accepted it is the question. Many golf fans and members of the media alike who discuss Tiger’s future seem to continue to hold out hope that he will not only come back and play, but will come back and win. That’s ridiculous to me based on the length of time he’s been away from the game, the weakened condition of his back after all the surgeries and how strong and talented the young guns are who have been playing and winning.
One thing is for certain: The U.S. team in the Presidents Cup genuinely looks and sounds like it enjoys having him around. It’s great to see the support the players give him, and Woods looks like he enjoys and relishes being there, despite not playing.
“I think it’s the pure enjoyment about, one, the competition, but also being with the guys (in a way) that’s a different role, not a player,” added Tiger. “I’m trying to help the other assistants, the other players and obviously our captain. And it’s been a lot of fun. I had a great time last year and having a blast this year. This is a great group of guys. All of our captains have been together before, and it’s a really fun time.”
U.S. team captain Steve Stricker said Woods has been very involved.
“We’re communicating through texts,” he said. “I’ve talked to him on the phone quite a bit the last couple weeks. He’s very into it. He’s got control of four guys that he’s watching over and is very involved with them and communicating with them. We all love having him.”
Before Wednesday’s news conference, Tiger was on the range with the American players, watching them, offering advice, enjoying the atmosphere.
Liberty National is quite spectacular, to say the least. Watching both teams practice on the range as they hit balls toward the skyline of lower Manhattan, with One World Trade Center darting up into the sky as a backdrop, provides a most dramatic setting.
The sky’s the limit for American team members Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner Matt Kuchar, Kevin Chappell, Charley Hoffman and Phil Mickelson, who has competed in 12 Presidents Cups and has compiled a record of 23-16-12 in an unprecedented 51 matches.
Woods, with 24 wins in the eight President Cups he played in from 1998-2013, can only continue to watch. And for the first time ever, it seems, he’s accepted that.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori