JERSEY CITY, N.J. — By all accounts — especially his own — Tiger Woods enjoyed his first turn as a United States assistant captain at last year’s Ryder Cup. He enjoyed the camaraderie, the strategy and, yes, the winning.
He liked it so much that a week after that competition, he enthusiastically signed on as one of Steve Stricker’s initial assistants for this year’s Presidents Cup, a no-brainer decision for Woods.
Except that, for a time after accepting the role, he didn’t think it would actually happen.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to be here, because I couldn’t ride in a cart,” he said during a Wednesday news conference. “The bouncing just hurt too much. Driving a car still hurt.”
That was earlier this summer, after a fourth back surgery, when a normal life without pain appeared bleak for Woods, let alone a return to competitive golf someday.
Spoiler alert: He’s here at Liberty National, wearing the team colors, assisting Stricker with pairings, riding on a cart (and walking upright) and even discussing a potential comeback.
Those facts alone should be considered a victory for Woods, who has been all smile and muscle so far this week.
“I’m trying to help the other assistants, the other players and obviously our captain,” he explained. “It’s been a lot of fun. I had a great time last year and having a blast this year. This is a great group of guys.”
If Woods enjoys being around them and helping in whatever way he can, the feeling is clearly mutual.
He’s getting a chance to reunite with his buddies — Stricker and fellow assistants Davis Love III, Fred Couples and Jim Furyk — while once again charged with managing one of the three player pods, this time the one including Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger and Brooks Koepka.
“Just to have him in the corner means a lot,” Reed explained. “Just having him in the team room is huge. To have him be part of our little group is going to be so much fun. We had a lot of success with him following me at Hazeltine and to get him back, it feels right.”
It’s a notion that might’ve sounded ludicrous just a half-decade ago.
Woods, the 14-time major champion who made a career out of stepping on his opponents’ throats, morphing into the grizzled, old veteran who just wants to help others play their best golf?
Ludicrous then, reality now.
“As far as his homework and research and what he’s doing and looking into everything, he’s spent more time on that than he did homework at Stanford,” quipped Rickie Fowler. “There’s no question about that.”
Much like last year, Woods is no honorary assistant. He isn’t a guy just hanging out in the team room taking selfies with the players and snacking on their PB&J sandwiches.
The way Stricker sees it, Woods has as much personally invested in this team as anyone.
“He’s very involved,” the captain insisted. “We’re communicating through texts; I’ve talked to him on the phone quite a bit the last couple weeks. He’s very into it. It will be the same this week. He’s got control of four guys that he’s watching over and is very involved with them and communicates with them. They love having him there. We all love having him. He’s brought a lot of experience to the table as a player, and he’s very into it. He’s fun to be around and the guys appreciate him being here.”
Get news coverage, analysis and scores on ESPN for the 12th edition of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Daniel Berger, who tees it up in his first pro team competition at the Presidents Cup, oozes with confidence. That character trait will serve him well this week at Liberty National.
The first five of 30 points available at the Presidents are up for grabs on Thursday during the foursomes session. So which matches will be the ones to keep an eye on at Liberty National Golf Club?
As has been the case for the past two decades, Woods’ machinations are still garnering more attention than any of his peers. In a news conference featuring four assistants from each team, he received nine questions, compared with seven questions for the other seven men.
He deftly divulged that the future of his playing career is still very much in doubt and that he still needs to regain better health before he can begin making full swings.
Where he really engaged, though, was when he was asked about his role this week and what it means for him to at least return to a competitive event.
“I enjoy being out here with the guys,” he said. “I always have, whether it was a player for many years, or it’s been two vice captainships in a row. It’s been a lot of fun being around these guys.”
It almost didn’t happen. The guy who’s won 14 majors, the one who looks chiseled enough to be upgraded from strong safety to linebacker, was almost hurting too much to hop in a golf cart.
Woods is here, though. And once again, it’s no honorary role.