Tiger Woods is feeling himself. And why shouldn’t he? There is no player who has ever strutted around professional golf fairways better than Woods. From club twirls to fist pumps to staring down opponents, the Tiger oeuvre is so much more than just golf shots and trophies.
The Tiger strut has always been there. It just got buried in recent years, when he was hobbling around tournaments, posting scores in the high 70s, and disappearing from the game entirely. But it was still in there. He’d done enough in golf to be as sure of himself as anyone who has ever played it, even if he was injured or his game was a shell of its former self.
But now, after a comeback season that was unthinkably successful, Woods is a 42-year-old embodiment of the the “I think I got my swagger back” kid. He rolled into Ryder Cup week fresh off his first win in five years, which he had no time to revel in before grabbing a Monster and taking the team redeye to Paris. Once he got there, he did the usual early-week media rounds in between practice and just let it rip.
There was the the “Golf Mt. Rushmore” answer. You know how you know you’re arguably the greatest of all time? When it would be so obviously disingenuous or falsely modest to not include yourself in this answer. He had to throw himself in there, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deliver it perfectly with a mic drop at the buzzer.
.@TigerWoods gives his ultimate Mount Rushmore of golf. pic.twitter.com/wJ1mqco23A— Ryder Cup USA (@RyderCupUSA) September 25, 2018
Then came his official press conference, which was, as you’d expect, centered mostly around the events of Sunday’s win in Atlanta. For years, this wave of young talent that makes the Tour deeper than ever, has relished the opportunity to get Tiger back out there. Some say it’s simply for the great sports story it would be, others for the money and interest boon that the biggest draw in the history of the game would bring. Some say it’s because they want to stare down the player that inspired so many of them into the game.
Remember this one from March? Worth repeating.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) September 23, 2018
-Early vote for quote of the year-
David Duval’s answer to young pro golfers who say they wish they could have run up against Tiger in his prime:
“The hell you do.”
Tiger’s reply to those pleas, and even challenges, in recent years has simply been one of resignation or a diffident hope about eventually one day getting “back out there with the guys.” Well, Tiger is back now playing like one of the best in the world. And he’s got a little more juice in his answer about the younger generation now getting their wish.
When it comes to @TigerWoods, be careful what you wish for... pic.twitter.com/GOk3I8sCs1— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) September 25, 2018
So Tiger is back. He’s back to hitting it like the best ballstriker in the world. He’s back to winning on the PGA Tour. He’s back on the USA Ryder Cup roster for the first time in six years. He’s back to strutting around like he knows he’s one of best in the world. And he’s back to being that cocky Tiger, the one befitting a 14-time major champion and not the broken down 40-something.
This is all very good for the Ryder Cup, where Phil Mickelson, who practiced with Tiger on Tuesday, said it was the best he’d ever seen Woods swing the club.
You know what would make this Ryder Cup return even more delectable? Putting Tiger with Patrick Reed, the cockiest and most precocious American player of this generation. It does not matter what Reed did the week or month or season before the Ryder Cup. You can love him or hate him, and there are many on both sides of the Atlantic that do. But when the matches begin, he turns into a different player and has become the heart of this next era of U.S. Ryder Cup rosters.
There’s the finger wagging at opponents.
And the shushing of the opposing crowd.
And just the general Reed psychosis every time he tees it up in match play for the USA. The screaming, shouting, and staring...
So what I’m saying is, pairing “I think I’ve got my swagger back” Tiger with “I should take up all four golf Mt. Rushmore spots” Reed is quite a gift for USA fans, and really all observers of the Ryder Cup.
Indications from Paris are that we’re going to get it. It’s always an educated guessing game when the captains and players won’t come out and say it but the evidence and intel is building.
The evidence: Tiger and Reed have played together both practice days so far, whereas the other two in their foursome have rotated around to different pairings. Reed was seen practicing with a Bridgestone golf ball, the brand Tiger plays. You don’t practice with a different golf ball than you normally use unless you’re preparing for a potential alternate shot teammate.
In addition, it appears that the powerhouse pairing of Reed and Jordan Spieth is taking a break this Ryder Cup. They did not practice together on Tuesday and captain Jim Furyk, as Geoff Shackelford reported on Golf Channel, sidestepped the question about them playing together in this 2018 edition. It also sounds like a reprise of the Tiger-Mickelson pairing that failed so spectacularly in 2004, but gained steam again this summer, is unlikely. Furyk has said as much.
There is also some sourced intel about what is coming. Here’s FOX’s Shane Bacon:
Hearing from a couple of people that know things that it’ll be Reed and Tiger together, with Spieth playing with JT. Also, looks like Phil-Bryson and Rickie-DJ. With Webb-Bubba likely, Finau lands the golden goose in Koepka.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) September 26, 2018
This leaves us with a lot of signs pointing to Tiger-Reed.
UPDATE: We get our wish! Tiger and Reed will anchor the opening four-ball session for the American side on Friday morning. And not only that, but they were both practicing alternate shot on Thursday, too. So we could get a full 36 holes on from the Tiger-Reed duo on Friday. It was believed that Woods would only play one session per day, but that plan may have changed.
Not sure if winning in Atlanta changed the circumstances or what, but I mentioned on the pod that we had heard Tiger was only playing three matches. I can’t imagine that being true now if he was practicing alternate shot today. Expect he and Reed to go all 36 tomorrow.— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) September 27, 2018
In 2016, Tiger served as assistant captain and the four-man pod he was in charge of managing included Reed. The two developed rapport and Woods, who threw himself into the role studying minutiae about his players in the months preceding the matches, loved having Reed in his pod. Reed reportedly also started the week by walking into the room and demanding that he play all five sessions at Hazeltine. It was comical and endearing and so flawlessly Reed.
Now Tiger is a player and not an assistant captain and this is a pairing we desperately wanted but never thought we’d get. These things can change once the matches begin and the flow of the Cup evolves, but it’s looking more and more like Tiger’s return to the Ryder Cup will be alongside Reed for the first two days. Reed is a stout 6-1-2 in his two appearances. Put that history with a dialed-in Tiger, who also believes he’s the best in the world again, and we’re in for, at worst, one of the most entertaining two-man teams in Ryder Cup history.