Tiger Woods’ nagging back pain kicked up again Sunday during his Presidents Cup-winning singles match with Richard Sterne and it’s a good thing for captain Fred Couples that Johnny Miller was not quarterbacking America’s team.
Woods, who has battled a bad back since August, gasped, "Ah!" and grabbed at the pain after slicing his approach shot to the par-5 15th with the ball above his feet from the left side of the fairway. Grimacing as he walked gingerly toward the green, Woods had, prior to the stroke with a fairway metal, bent over and tended to what appeared to be tightness somewhere in his spine.
Which prompted NBC’s Johnny Miller to pull a John Madden and propose that Woods take a knee in his match with the Internationals’ Richard Sterne.
"You know, I’ve had a bad back," proclaimed Dr. Miller, who, as is his habit, interjected himself into the current competition, "and I won’t even hit an uphill shot when my back’s bad because you torque up ... and it just torques that L5 [lower back disk] on the right side."
Miller’s head-scratching remark brought to mind Madden’s debunked analysis, shared during Super Bowl XXXVI, that Patriots QB Tom Brady should have settled for a tie with the St. Louis Rams in regulation and gone for a W in overtime. In that long-ago situation, Brady, instead, led his pack of underdogs into field goal range, Adam Vinatieri split the uprights, and the Pats earned their first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
Woods, of course, was in the lineup for the American juggernaut, which entered Sunday’s singles with a decisive 14-8 advantage in points over golf’s top non-European players. Winning four matches to retain bragging rights for the eighth time in the 10 Presidents Cup contests seemed a foregone conclusion.
Yet, despite hoops legend Michael Jordan cheering Couples’ corps on from the sidelines, capturing those remaining points was no slam-dunk. Nick Price’s Internationals grabbed six of the first nine matches and closed to within three points of the favored home team.
Woods, who could have packed it in, as Miller hinted he would have if faced with a painful shot, hung in there and delivered captain Couples’ third straight -- and final -- victory as skipper of the U.S. crew.
Woods, no doubt, was relieved to seal the deal without needing extra frames.
"It feels good. It was a team effort this whole week," he told NBC after Sterne, who came up short with a 50-foot birdie putt on the 18th, conceded Tiger’s tap-in for a halve and the win. "We really played well, and gave ourselves a really nice lead going into the singles, and it was a tough day, tough conditions, rain, wind. It was tough all around."
It was only fitting that Woods clinched the title for Couples, who said afterward that he had coached his last Presidents Cup team ("A three-peat’s good enough for me," he averred). Tiger chalked up the win for his friend Fred despite making no birdies on the back nine and with an aching back that had him wincing and leaning against a tree for relief.
"Yeah, it [his back] acted up on 14 coming in and from 14 on it just kept getting worse and worse," Woods said. "It’s a little tight."
Tight or not, Couples was pleased to have Woods sew things up at Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village.
"Three years in a row I’ve won -- or three times in a row -- and Tiger’s won the last point," Couples said. "So that’s pretty cool."