By Doug Ferguson
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. _ Tiger Woods will be at the Ryder Cup next year. Still to be determined is whether he plays.
U.S. captain Davis Love III said Wednesday that Woods, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker will be vice captains for the 2016 matches at Hazeltine in Minnesota. It was part of an agreement with Europe to expand to a maximum of five vice captains.
Woods, however, wants to do both.
“Tiger has said, ‘I want to make the team and also be a (vice) captain,”’ Love said. “Tiger wants to be a playing assistant. That’s his goal.”
It seems like an audacious one given the state of the 14-time major champion. Woods has played only 20 tournaments in the last two years because of a pair of back surgeries and a recent follow-up procedure on his back. He has said it would be a long, tedious recovery and did not know when he could return to competition.
Woods has only one top 10 in the last two years.
Furyk and Stricker were vice captains in the Presidents Cup last month in South Korea. Stricker has been playing a reduced schedule the last few years and has slipped outside the top 200 in the world ranking. Furyk is No. 9 in the world and is coming off a solid season with his 17th career win and $3.7 million.
The five vice captains would allow one of them to be with each match during the team sessions, with another that Love described as a “floater.” Last year at Gleneagles, European captain Paul McGinley had one of his assistants with the players who sat out some of the team sessions.
Love already announced former Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman as one of his assistants.
“These three guys joining Tom Lehman will send a message to our team that we are really serious about this Ryder Cup, so that the members know that we’re going to do whatever it takes to put them in the best position to win in 2016,” Love said.
Europe has won six out of the last seven times.
Among the strategies that came out of a Ryder Cup Task Force was to have vice captains who were either past captains for would be considered future captain. Love approached Woods, Furyk, Stricker and Phil Mickelson about being vice captains.
Mickelson turned him down _ for now _ because he is only thinking about making the team. Mickelson hasn’t won since the 2013 British Open and has fallen out of the top 25 in the world for the first time in 20 years. He was a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup and went 3-0-1.
“He walked off the 18th green telling me, ‘I’m ready to go for Hazeltine,”’ said Love, who was in South Korea as an assistant. “When I asked him about this, he said, ‘Look, I’ll do whatever it takes. I’m focused on making your team and playing on your team. I can’t do both.”’
That’s not how Woods viewed it.
Love referenced a “pod” system successfully used by Paul Azinger in the last U.S. win in 2008 in which four players are matched together during the week. He said if Woods were to make the team, he wanted to be remain a vice captain and be in charge of his pod.
“Tiger wants to be a leader of that group, but he wants to do it from on the golf course,” Love said. “He doesn’t want to be the general sitting in the room. He wants to be in the battle. I talked at length with Jim, Tom and Steve about it. They agree. Tiger is very capable of doing that.”
Love said Woods called him during the Presidents Cup and expressed interest in being a vice captain _ and possibly more.
“This is something I want to do,” Woods said in a statement. “I will continue to do whatever I can to help win the cup back. Once I’m fully healthy, I’d like to try to make the team, too. But either way, I’m very excited to work with Davis, the other vice captains and the players to get a U.S. victory.”
Love said Furyk and Stricker told him they would not be interested in doing both. If either were to make the team, Love can name a replacement.
This is the earliest a U.S. captain has announced his assistants, and there was a reason for that.
“We’ve got to get to work,” Love said.
The Ryder Cup starts Sept. 30 outside Minneapolis.