Friendship had nothing to do with Fred Couples’ choice of Tiger Woods for his U.S. Presidents Cup team. In fact, said Captain Couples, the two golfers don’t hang out a ton watching football, drinking beer, or doing whatever good pals do. It’s Woods’ former prowess on the golf course and current rigorous practice regimen that won him the first of two wild-card picks for the 2011 squad that will meet its International counterparts in Australia in two weeks.
“I’ve heard we’re friends, we’re buddies. You know, we’re not buddies,” Couples told reporters Wednesday, on the eve of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco. “I love the way he plays golf….At Harding Park [site of the 2009 Presidents Cup, in which Woods compiled a 5-0 record], he was a machine….In match play, you know, he’s great.
“I will tell you this much: [Woods] has worked, in the last two months, really, really hard on his game,” Couples noted, “and I think that just says he’s healthy.”
Couples, who has taken heat from all corners for choosing Woods over PGA champ Keegan Bradley, brushed off the criticism by observing that no matter what the post-scandal Tiger Woods may do, it will never be enough for some.
“He…goes to play in CordeValle [site of the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open] and he helps the tournament by nine million percent and then [the critics] pick on the Presidents Cup pick and they turn it into a negative. It blows my mind,” the easy-going Couples said. “They all sit there and they want him to play and then he goes and plays and they beat him up for playing.
“It’s kind of like this guy can’t win,” said Couples, who also told the media he tapped Champions Tour player John Cook to replace assistant captain Michael Jordan because of Cook’s close relationship with Woods.
Cook and Woods were golfing pals when both lived and played at Orlando’s Isleworth community.
“I felt like John and Tiger are very close, and that would help Tiger as much as any [of the other 11 guys on the team],” Couples said. “If Tiger Woods and John Cook are really close friends and buddies, that’s an easy call.”
Couples named Cook after Jordan, a majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, bowed out, citing ongoing negotiations concerning the prolonged basketball lockout
“Certainly my relationship with Tiger is probably an issue that helped Fred make a decision, that we were very close,” Cook said when he met the press prior to the Schwab Cup. “I believe in Tiger Woods. I’m an old friend of his. If I can make him feel comfortable at anything, that’s what I’ll do. That’s my role.”
Espousing an us-against-the-world view, Cook said Woods can count on him to be “a compadre there that really does care about him genuinely, as a friend, as somebody that really cares about what he’s doing and believes in what he’s doing.
“Not many people do right now,” Cook added, “so it might be nice to have somebody there that really does. Not to question him, but to help.”
Now that Capt. Fred has replaced one Tiger binkie with another, it looks like it’s all up to the former ace to produce on the field. To that end, No. 56 in the world said he was ready for the challenge.
“The last couple of years, I haven’t really played as well as I’d like,” Woods told the Associated Press Thursday from Singapore. “I made some changes in my swing and I’ve obviously been hurt and that kind of added to it. Now I’m healthy, playing again, playing more and playing consistently.”
Woods has not won an official golf event since November 2009 and has plummeted from the pinnacle of the golf world in dramatic fashion. He shrugged off his 0-fer-2010/2011 as just one of those things.
“You look at everyone’s career, you have these ebbs and flows,” he said. “We don’t play well all the time.”