Tiger Woods has a nice opportunity these days to stop making everything be about Tiger Woods.
He can, and should, just pick up the phone, call Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson and tell Watson not to pick him for the team. It would be a gesture of sportsmanship, goodwill and reality, three areas not among Woods’ top priorities.
Woods is hurt. He’s a mess. The big issue now, every time he plays, is not whether he will win, but whether he will make the cut.
This may not be permanent. He may get healthy and stop hitting drivers into parking lots and ponds. But that isn’t the case now, and now — in about three weeks — is when Watson has to make his three captain’s picks.
The stunning part is that this is even an issue. The wait-and-see is over. A big run in the recently completed PGA Championship would have been worth a pause and more consideration. But he didn’t make the cut.
When are we going to stop thinking this is the same Tiger Woods who gutted out his last major title at Torrey Pines in 2008? It isn’t. He has tangled with a fire hydrant in his own driveway, personal demons elsewhere and so many injuries and swing adjustments that we have stopped listening.
What’s next? Tommy John surgery?
He is No. 70 on the U.S. Ryder Cup rankings list. No, not No. 7. No. 70. Right there between Troy Merritt and Luke Guthrie.
His game is a disaster. The harder he tries and the more he keeps cursing and snarling his way around golf courses — usually with the cameras rolling and our children learning new words -- the less endearing his comeback cause becomes.
It is time for Tiger to be a team player and not play on the team.
It is time for him to make that choice, to give Watson a break and let the U.S. team go off to Gleneagles, Scotland, with its best shot. The matches start Sept. 26, and the U.S. Ryder Cup deficiencies are becoming slightly embarrassing. As the European golf writers like to type, smugly, “The U.S. Ryder Cup team has won only once in this century.”
That, of course, was Paul Azinger’s team in 2008 at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky.
It isn’t that Watson doesn’t have the guts, or the credentials, to just tell Woods no. It’s that he shouldn’t have to. Woods should be able to look himself in the mirror and make that call himself.
Yet what do we hear from Watson the day after the PGA, won by, of course, a European, Rory McIlroy? Watson told reporters, “Tiger said, ‘I want you to pick me.’”
Watson, with some time to figure out how to do this, said all the logical, comfortable things in the press conference, such as, “He’s Tiger Woods.” And, “I would be a fool not to consider him.”
Consider, yes. Select no.
It’s not as if Woods has been the dominating force in U.S. play, anyway. His Ryder Cup record is 13-17-3. In singles 4-1-2.
Watson knows he is in the middle of a firestorm.
A large segment of America’s golf fans can’t let go of Woods, can’t believe that the days of runaway victories in majors and chip-ins so perfectly executed that his sponsor’s logo stops to pause at the hole before dropping in may be history. That segment of fans wants him picked because “he is Tiger Woods.” How about, he “used to be Tiger Woods.”
Another large segment of America’s golf fans are sick of the almost knee-jerk attention he gets from the media, to the exclusion of other golfers who are actually playing well, and his ongoing litany of “It’s a process” and “I’m almost there.”
He’s not, he knows it, but he just can’t let the spotlight go.
There have been so many chances along the way, since his marital mess and series of injuries, to come back the right way, to work on his image as well as his game. Just a tad of self-effacing humor could have gone a long way. Just a moment of admission that he had some worries, an occasional doubt, a wish he had done some things differently, would have put a human face on the nothing-matters-but-winning golf machine.
But he seems incapable of that. Nor do the yes-men around him seem capable, or willing, to explain the upside of that to him. All we need is just one utterance of “I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever win another major,” or “I’m playing so badly that I’m just going to go out today and try to have fun.” Then we could much more easily feel for him. Humans are much more attractive than robots.
Winning isn’t everything. Even Vince Lombardi would admit that. An occasional flash of humility can go a long way.
Woods should make the call. Just once, he should put some greater good ahead of his own competitive drive and ego. That made him great once upon a time. It may do so again down the line. But right now, without the results to validate the drive and ego, it’s tarnishing his legacy.
A struggling Tiger Woods isn’t going to help the U.S. Ryder Cup team. An absent one will.