Tiger Woods has done a little of everything at this Presidents Cup – ESPN

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Tiger Woods has done a little of everything at this Presidents Cup – ESPN

1:49 AM ET

  • Bob HarigESPN Senior Writer

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    • Senior golf writer for ESPN.com
    • Covered golf for more than 20 years
    • Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana University

MELBOURNE, Australia — Tiger Woods figured he had a team more than capable of cruising to another Presidents Cup victory without him.

Little did he know that all the off-course effort he put into his Presidents Cup captaincy over the past several weeks and months would be a backstory to his play on the course at Royal Melbourne.

Woods did not figure to be the star, not at this point of his career, not with all his other responsibilities as captain, not with the injuries he endured over the summer that made his Masters win in April appear a final act.

Look at him now.

Woods was the best player on the course during the opening session when the Americans won just a single match. And he all but willed himself and Justin Thomas to victory on Day 2, hitting the approach shot to 17 feet on the 18th hole that his partner made for birdie to win a tense match with Byeong-Hun An and Hideki Matsuyama.

Given that the Americans have won just three matches through two days and Woods and Thomas have been responsible for two of them says something about the kind of golf Woods still can play as well as the disappointing efforts put forth by the rest of his team.

The Americans still trail 6½ to 3½ — the same deficit they had coming into Day 2 — but for a long time it appeared the result would be far worse.

It was Woods who made the 9-footer to square Friday’s match after having had gone 1 down through 12 holes with a birdie at the 13th. And then he hit the approach at the 18th and watched Thomas go wild after knocking in the winning putt.

“Gives me absolute chills, man,” Woods said on the 18th green. “Absolute chills. It was a phenomenal moment, and it was priceless. So I’m glad we were able to experience it together.”

All giddiness aside, this has been some strange Presidents Cup.

The Americans were prohibitive favorites, with all 12 of their players ranked among the top 23 in the world and the International team having just two such players.

Even without No. 1-ranked Brooks Koepka, it’s a pretty formidable group when you can throw Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland and Xander Schauffele out there.

And yet, little has gone as planned.

Johnson has lost both of his matches in his first competitive golf since August due to knee surgery; so has the tandem of Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed, who further buried himself by simulating a shovel motion in response to heckling fans in the aftermath of his sand-based rules violation a week ago in the Bahamas.

Woodland, who played well in the fall, has struggled, although he and Fowler came up big in the end, birdieing the last two holes to forge a tie in their match with Cameron Smith and Sung-jae Im.

Still, the Americans only won half the points on Friday, far below their foursomes standard, which saw them win 45 out of a possible 62 points in the format going back to 2007.

“Look at the record we’ve had in the foursomes the last 25 years, so for us to come out 2½ to 2½ in the session is like a win for us,” International team captain Ernie Els said. “We would have taken that at the start of the day.”

Woods was spinning it another way, knowing that were it not for big putts by Patrick Cantlay, Thomas and Fowler on the 18th green, the deficit would be far different, perhaps even insurmountable.

“It looked pretty bleak, but the guys turned it around,” Woods said. “They played phenomenal coming in. It was important for us to end the way we did, and it totally changed the last hour.”

Although Thomas has not been at his best over the past two days, he contributed far more on Friday in the foursomes format and now has quietly run his combined Presidents Cup/Ryder Cup record to 9-2-1.

Thomas clearly came to Australia as America’s best player, and Woods needs more of that from him over the weekend.

The captain also could use a bit of fire from the rest of his team, which has managed to secure just a point and a half out of 10 — and sometimes looked out of sorts in doing so.

Now Woods will go back to captain only — perhaps for just the morning — and it is interesting to see how this has evolved.

For so long, it seemed that being a captain might impact his ability to prepare and play — and that has hardly been the case. But has playing impacted his ability to be a captain?

“It’s about putting everything in their own little boxes,” Woods said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have three of the most amazing vice captains [Fred Couples, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson]. “They have all been there, done that, seen it, and there commitment to this … I couldn’t have done it without them.”

And yet … who would have ever thought the team itself would be saying the same thing about Woods the player?

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