You know that fire hydrant Tiger Woods backed into with his SUV on Thanksgiving night 2009? That minor but notorious fender bender may be nothing compared to the potential collision awaiting the former No. 1 and newly anointed 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson.
The two have had a strained - if any - relationship since Woods’ serial adultery went viral and Watson went out of his way to castigate the wayward golfer for on- and off-course transgressions. But Woods sought to put all that behind the two Stanford men when he offered somewhat tepid applause to the incoming skipper.
“I’d like to congratulate Tom Watson on his selection as Ryder Cup captain,” Woods said in a statement after the much-ballyhooed and completely anti-climactic announcement by PGA of America president Ted Bishop on Thursday’s “Today” show. “I think he’s a really good choice. Tom knows what it takes to win and that is our ultimate goal. I hope I have the privilege of joining him on the 2014 Unite States team.”
Watson, for his part, also hoped to downplay any perceived rift between him and Woods, telling Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman she was making too much out of what had transpired since Woods' fall from grace.
“Whatever’s happened in the past has happened and the most important thing is his ability to help the team win,” Watson said following his post-announcement press conference. “Being the best player to may have ever played the game, you want a player like that on your team....if Tiger Woods is -- for some stupid reason he’s not on the team, he’ll certainly be at the top of my list. I want somebody of that capability, of that type of desire to win to be on my team."
No one will know until the team gathers at Gleneagles in Scotland in two years how Woods will deal with what many believe will be Watson’s autocratic style, as Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte alluded to after the announcement.
“You’ve got to commend Woods for going high road here,” Rosaforte said about Woods’ reaction to what had become the worst-kept secret in golf. “There’s a statement and there’s also how they act around each other. I believe the statement is consistent with what I’ve seen with Woods for almost all the year and going forward.”
While Rosaforte opined that Woods did not want the controversy of the notoriously frosty association between the two men dogging him for two years, he also suggested that the golf world would have to wait and see what transpired in 2014.
“Tiger, as we know, does not forget. He’s a stubborn guy. All the great ones are stubborn. You’ve got to be stubborn to be great,” he said. “But at the same time, it does seem like there’s a level of maturity that we’re seeing here -- the fact that he’s reached out in such a positive manner.
“And again,” Rosaforte said, “we’ll have to see how it works out when the team is together.”
Nick Faldo reminded Rosaforte that Tiger would not be the only mule likely to enter the team room in 2014.
“You’re right,” Faldo told Rosaforte, “He’s stubborn. Tom Watson’s stubborn, too.”
For the good of the team -- and to reclaim the cup Watson earned as captain of the 1993 U.S. squad and that Bishop has said was the driving force behind his somewhat controversial nomination -- the two icons must find a way to get along. And since it’s not the “Tiger Cup,” Woods is likely the guy who’ll have to cave.
Much debate about Tom Watson's relationship with Tiger Woods. Only one of them is guaranteed role at '14 Ryder Cup, and it ain't the cat.— Eamon Lynch (@eamonlynch) December 12, 2012
For sure, Presidents Cup captain and Woods pal Fred Couples would have been a more popular choice for Tiger and perhaps many fans. Vietnam War vet and three-time major champ Larry Nelson, snubbed once again in his long-standing quest to take the Ryder Cup reigns, and David Toms, another early favorite who ended up not even in the running, might have been more palatable to Woods.
But perhaps an authoritarian rather than a colleague who won’t coddle team members is just what Tiger needs as motivation to overcome his woeful 13-17-3 record in seven appearances in the biennial matches with Europe. Some observers believe past captains have done with wild card selections (Steve Stricker, 2012) and pairings (the 0-3 Stricker/Woods combo at Medinah in September; Davis Love III sitting the sizzling team of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley on Saturday afternoon after Lefty said he wouldn’t go).
“You have to have someone who is not going to play with the guys you’re keeping out of the matches in the next week,” Nelson told Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” earlier in the week.
Hall of Famer Lanny Wadkins weighed in with “Morning Drive” as well, noting that his long-time friend would put winning above all else -- including that blasted competition inside the team room.
“He doesn’t go out there to have fun; he goes out there to kick butt and get the job done,” Wadkins said. “I played for some older captains...so I think that this might be a great move. Honestly, I think the PGA’s tired of losing....Ping pong is wonderful, but that doesn’t do any good the next day after you lose.”
Wadkins, a member of Watson’s 1993 team and leader of the 1995 group that came up short, lauded the “attitude” the new captain would bring to the contest.
“It’s, ‘We are going to win just because we are,’” he told Golfweek’s Jeff Rude. “The inmates won’t be running the asylum. The Ryder Cup is not about the buddy system. It’s about kicking the Europeans’ butts.”
Golf Channel’s Nick Faldo backed Watson as team captain but pointed out at least one of the challenges facing the no-nonsense, eight-time major champion.
“He’s going to get a 38-year-old Tiger Woods for a start that’ll probably still be, if not the best player in the world, one of them, and how does he manage that?” Faldo wondered. “Who do you pair him with because it looks like Tiger will never again play with Stricker or [Jim] Furyk or whatever so you’ve got to find a new partner.”
Woods’ comfort level, of course, was hardly the only element that factored into Bishop’s decision. The new PGA prez promised one and all a captain “outside the box” of the past five captains, each of whom has won at least one major championship, generally been in his mid- to late-40s, and was still active on the PGA Tour.
Many hailed the selection of Watson as a radical departure from past captains, though the primary differences between him and his immediate predecessors is that he’ll be 65 - the oldest Ryder Cup pilot in U.S. history - when he takes the helm in 2014, and he’ll be the first to reprise his captain’s role since Jack Nicklaus did so in 1987. As a five-time British Open winner (with four of those Ws on Scottish soil), he also revels in the elements that are sure to come into play in Scotland.
And, of course, he led the Americans to that 1993 victory - only the second, and most recent, win as the away team since 1981 - and was expected to bring an intensity to the clubhouse that may have been lacking in recent years.
“He’s all business. That’s good. B.S. with this having fun,” 1985 captain Lee Trevino told Rude. “Go beat someone. Watson will tell everybody, ‘I don’t care if you have fun; just go out there and get it done.’ What he’ll bring to the table is a focus, and I think they’ll play hard for him.”
Maybe the take-no-bull approach of a legendary old man who’s on a mission will be just what the team, and Woods, need to get them over the nightmare of their epic collapse at Medinah and enable them to secure the trophy that Europe has won in seven of the last nine attempts.
If not, buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. We could be in for a bumpy ride.