Tour Confidential: Who should pair with Tiger at the Presidents Cup? (And who should he avoid?)

November 11, 2019

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This Sunday we discuss with whom Tiger Woods’ should pair himself, which of his captain’s pick snubs stung the most, scorecard-keeping issues in golf, and more.

1. The picks are in. Tiger Woods and Ernie Els completed their Presidents Cup teams last week with four captain’s picks each. For the U.S. squad, Woods picked Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed and, well, himself. First things first, with whom should Capt. Woods pair himself, and is there anyone he would be wise to avoid partnering with? 

Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): With, in theory, an easier opponent, Woods’ decisions on pairings won’t be quite so scrutinized as in the Ryder Cup. But they’re still important. I’d like to see him play with Justin Thomas. Feels like an obvious pick, but with Spieth off the team, there’s no one on the squad that Thomas has paired really well with. A Tiger-Thomas duo could really crush some souls. I’d avoid playing with Matt Kuchar. Even though they had some good juju at past Cups, that was a long time ago and Kuchar hasn’t played well this fall. 

Josh Sens, contributing writer (@JoshSens): I don’t think there’s anyone to avoid, but I do think he should pair himself with Reed. You picked him, captain; you take him. Plus, it’s an opportunity to make some amends for their poor Ryder Cup team effort.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I think the captain is all in, now: Pat-n-Tiger, forever. That’s probably the very partner Tiger should avoid, but you only live once.

Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): I’d put him with Patrick or otherwise Bryson — two big personalities who might be hard to pair with. Not sure who I would say he should avoid since Phil didn’t make this team.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): It cuts both ways for Tiger. He’d surely love to play with the strongest possible partners so he can win his matches — that means Thomas or DJ or Koepka if he answers the bell.  But as captain he has to deal with the problem children, which means Reed and DeChambeau. I think it’ll be the latter since I get the feeling Tiger sees himself as a captain first.

Woods boldly named Reed as a Presidents Cup captain's pick, which appears to signal that Reed's controversial post-Ryder Cup commentary is now water under the bridge.
Getty Images

2. Of the guys who didn’t make the team, Woods said “the toughest call to make” was to Rickie Fowler. But Kevin Kisner, Jordan Spieth and several others all had their own convincing cases to make for themselves. Which player is most entitled to feel snubbed?

Zak: Kisner. Fowler isn’t entitled to anything after he didn’t play this fall. Go ahead, get married! That’s great. Just don’t expect courtesy invites. I don’t think Fowler is losing sleep over it. If he is, you know what they say: play better. 

Sens: What Sean said. Kisner calls to mind a contemporary Corey Pavin. A match-play pitbull. Latches onto your ankle and never lets go.

Berhow: If we are penalizing people for skipping a fall season that we ourselves have trouble getting excited about then what are we doing here? Rickie was the ultimate snub. I don’t know about you guys, but getting married is a pretty good excuse to take a couple of months off from a season that never stops. He had been solid — not spectacular — but he deserved a pick. 

Bamberger: I wonder if there was a deal in place, with Rickie telling Tiger that this was a good time for him to take a pass. It’s sounds like a joke, but it’s not: it’s not easy being a new wife at one of these events, when your husband is getting all the attention. I imagine Spieth thought he had made a good case for himself, loves Tiger, loves being on a team, could use a boost. It wasn’t a snub, but it had to be hard for him.

Shipnuck: Hard to believe neither Fowler or Spieth is on the team — they looked like long-term cornerstones. And from Tiger it displays a brutal lack of confidence in Spieth. I think that one hurts the most.

From Tiger it displays a brutal lack of confidence in Spieth. I think that one hurts the most.

3. Some assumed Woods would take a flier on Spieth — much like Norman did several years ago with Adam Scott — to give a struggling player who is important to the team’s future success a confidence booster that could pay off in the long run, both for the player and team. Did Tiger make the right decision to think present instead of future when it comes to Spieth?

Zak: Screw the future! Win now, baby. Again, if we really wanted Spieth on this team, it starts with him playing better. He didn’t do it during last season, and he didn’t do it quite well enough this fall. 

Sens: Zak’s right again. This isn’t some touchy-feely middle school rec soccer league. Not everyone gets a medal for participation, or an invite to the varsity team. Spieth is a big boy and a tough competitor. A captain’s pick isn’t going to be what makes or breaks his confidence.

Bamberger: I’m guessing Koepka won’t play and Spieth will, in the end.

Berhow: Sure it would have been nice for Spieth’s confidence, but a couple of guys like Finau and Woodland, in my mind, definitely deserved picks. They played well in the present, so it’s unfair to look past them just because their names aren’t as popular as Jordan’s. I would have reached a little for Spieth, but this was too much of one, especially considering Tiger (rightfully) burned a pick on himself. But Michael is right, it’ll be interesting to see who the No. 5 option was this whole time if Brooks can’t go.

Shipnuck: This U.S. team is so top-heavy: 11 of the top 16 in the World Ranking. Royal Melbourne is not conducive to bomb and gouge and will help make things more competitive, but we have to assume the Yanks are to win no matter what. As a former member of the Ryder Cup Task Force, I wish Tiger used this Presidents Cup to think long-term. That would’ve meant Matt Wolff, Collin Morikawa, Cam Champ and Spieth as a confidence-booster.

4. Former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley sent a tweet that suggested Woods should give up his duties as captain now that he’s going to play. “I’m surprised Tiger has not stepped aside as Captain of the Presidents Cup,” he wrote. “Was one of the goals set out by Americas task force in 2014 not succession planning and for immediate future Captains to gain valuable experience?” Should Woods consider this? How difficult do you expect it will be for him to balance playing with captaining?

Zak: LOL. Paul McGinley is entitled to an opinion, but in terms of the Presidents Cup and the American Task Force, his doesn’t have much, if any, weight. Tiger has been the 2019 captain for many months now; changing that would be so incredibly weird and off-putting. What, Patrick Reed is going to be playing for Zach Johnson now? Don’t be silly. That isn’t to say that it makes his job easier, but no one is more ready to play both roles than TW. I think it might prove difficult for him to get locked in his classic “Tiger Zone.” I see him sitting the first session and seeing how things go before he tees it.  

Sens: Am I wrong in thinking that this sort of multi-tasking just isn’t that tough? Make your picks. Set your pairings. Go out and play. No more complicated than walking and chewing gum at the same time, which Woods now does on the course as well. 

Bamberger: I think, in general, people should be more discerning about their use of the word should.

Berhow: This is the Presidents Cup, not the Ryder Cup, and I see Tiger playing only one session the first two days and then just one on Saturday. After that, he sets the tone himself in Sunday singles and watches the troops come in. (Let’s not overthink this; it’s just golf.)

Shipnuck: Earth to McGinley: Tiger is going to be a future Ryder Cup captain, too. He might do a Jacklin and serve multiple terms. So he *is* grooming future Ryder Cup leadership.

5. After a week littered with scorecard-signing errors that resulted in disqualifications at the pro, collegiate and high school levels, is it time, in this era of rules “modernizing,” to consider looser guidelines — or perhaps a grace period — for these infractions? Or do players just need to shoulder the responsibility and be more diligent?

Zak: Definitely looser guidelines for the scorecard rule. I understand how important the scorecard is, don’t get me wrong. But perhaps the conclusion doesn’t have to be so cutthroat? I’d like to see a grace-period of, say, 15-20 minutes after a round before signing for your score is necessary. But as with most rules, uh, you could just follow them. Counting is easy. Remembering isn’t hard. Marking a score after each hole is pretty simple. Maybe just do that. 

Sens: You’d think this would have all been corrected after the ‘68 Masters. Yes. It’s time. Who wins and loses should be determined by what happens on the course. Not by a player’s accounting error.

Bamberger: No. Loose anything with the rules creates more problems than it solves. Keep your card with care. Sign it with care. Leave in peace.

Berhow: Some of golf’s laughably old-school rules have been tweaked in the past couple of years and this one seems right up there. But at the same time there isn’t much guessing that goes with this: you recorded a score, put down a number, check it with others. The whole double-checking process takes an extra few minutes of your life — about as much time as it takes to send a half-good tweet. Let’s just be more careful.

Shipnuck: I agree with Mike. On the PGA Tour every shot is being watched but in the minor leagues there is often no one out there. An accurate scorecard is everything. Per Zak’s suggestion, that would mean the wrong score could be in effect during the grace period, which could affect how the cut line or lead looks to competitors on the course, which could impact their strategy. It’s not asking too much for players to keep (and sign) an accurate card.

6. Two streaks recently ended for 49-year-old Phil Mickelson: a 26-year run inside the top 40 in the World Ranking, and playing in 24 consecutive team events. Which one will be tougher for today’s young stars to match?

Zak: 24 consecutive teams is much harder to do. You can basically take a year off and remain inside the top 30. Being on every … damn … team is a feat that may never be matched. At least until Matt Wolff is in his late 40s. 

Sens: Team. Given the way young guys swing these days, will any even remain healthy for that long? That’s one of the many remarkable aspects of Mickelson’s long run.

Bamberger: Both are impossible and go hand-in-hand. Can’t imagine it will happen again. The kids don’t swing like Mickelson did. He’s Boros, Bill Casper, Big Jack. Cabrera. His way shall not pass this way again. 

Berhow: Twenty-four straight teams is nuts. Just think of all those different playing partners he’s had! [Looks up playing partners.] He played with Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin in the first of these, the 1994 Prez Cup. Although it’s a little sad how the streak ended with that water ball in Paris.

Shipnuck: For all the barbs Phil absorbed through the years about his body and work ethic, Mickelson got the last laugh with good health and longevity. Both streaks are amazing.

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