HARTFORD, Conn. – I’ve always considered Adam Scott one of the most articulate, intelligent and classy players and interviews in golf. So I was taken aback when Scott asked the ardent golf fans in his native Australia not to cheer for Tiger Woods in the Presidents Cup on Dec. 12-15 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Victoria.
Woods, the first United States playing captain since Hale Irwin in the inaugural event against the International team in 1994, will be making his first appearance in Australia since the 2011 matches at Royal Melbourne. While Scott admits Tiger will be the usual major draw in the event, he told the Herald Sun in Melbourne that he hopes fans help to maximize the home team’s edge.
“Last time it was too friendly,” Scott said. “Quite bluntly, we want the home-crowd advantage, and I’ll be disappointed if they are cheering enthusiastically for Tiger or anyone on the U.S. team.”
While I would expect the Aussie fans to root louder and harder for the International side, I can’t believe Scott would actually tell them not to cheer the No. 1 draw in the game who made a miraculous recovery from a fourth back surgery to win his 15th major championship in the Masters in April and then captured the ZOZO Championship in September nine weeks after minor knee surgery for his 82nd career victory, tying Sam Snead’s PGA Tour career record.
Scott will play in his eighth Presidents Cup and be a veteran presence on captain Ernie Els’ underdog 12-man team, especially after fellow Aussie Jason Day had to withdraw last week because of continued back problems and was replaced by Byeong-Hun An, who will be the seventh rookie on the team. The U.S. leads the biennial series 10-1-1, though the International’s lone victory came at Royal Melbourne in 1998.
Scott will play in the Australian Open and Australian PGA Championship around the Presidents Cup but remains eager to help turn the tide in the lopsided team competition by any means available, including the behavior of those outside the ropes.”
“I’m not saying be a poor sport, but one challenge our team has always had is gaining a home-soil advantage because it’s rare that stars like Tiger and DJ (Dustin Johnson) come to Australia (2011) or Korea (2015) where we play these things and the locals are excited to see them as much as anyone on our team,” Scott said. “But while we appreciate them very much, we don’t have to cheer for them.”
Come on, Adam, you’re better than that. Plus, you might not have to worry about anyone cheering for the fourth-ranked Johnson after lingering issues from left knee surgery on Sept. 5 caused him to withdraw from the Hero World Challenge, which is Wednesday through Saturday at Albany Golf Course in New Providence, Bahamas.
Chez Reavie, who won the Travelers Championship in June, replaced Johnson and will make his debut in the 18-man invitational hosted by Woods. Eleven players in the field will be representing the U.S. in the Presidents Cup: Woods, U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler, who replaced No. 1-ranked Brooks Koepka in Australia because of his lingering problems from stem-cell surgery on his left knee on Aug. 26. Others in the Hero field are Justin Rose and Kevin Kisner.
It will be Woods’ first start since his ZOZO Championship victory in the first PGA Tour event in Japan, and he’ll be a host and looking forward toward his first captaincy.
“The only thing that I have control over at the Hero is the first-round pairings,” Woods said. “Put together the pairings the first day and that’s about it. Other than that, we re-pair every day and after that, it’s a crapshoot and based on how you play. Some of the guys may want to play with certain players. We’ll talk about that. They can use that.
“More than anything, I want them to use that as a tournament to get sharp, knock the rust off and be ready to go to Oz and be ready to bring home a cup.”
Pairings for the first round Wednesday offer a hint as to whom Woods plans to pair in the Presidents Cup. Schauffele and Woodland tee off at 11:02 a.m., followed by DeChambeau-Simpson (11:13), Reed-Cantlay (11:24), Woods-Thomas (11:35) and Fowler-Finau (11:46). Kuchar, the 11th Presidents Cup team member, will play with Reavie at 11:57.
Fowler needs the work the most. After finishing 19th in the Tour Championship in late August, he hasn’t played again because of his marriage to longtime girlfriend Allison Stokke on Oct. 5 and having to withdraw from the Mayakoba Classic last month because of an intestinal bacterial infection that he contracted during a lengthy honeymoon.
Some questioned Woods’ decision to pick someone who hasn’t played competitively in three months, but Fowler, known for his short game and putting and one of the most popular players in the game, can silence the critics with a strong performance in the Hero World Challenge.
Meanwhile, Spaniard Jon Rahm, the defending Hero champion, has risen to No. 3 in the rankings after winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai two weeks ago, earning him the European Tour’s Race to Dubai title. Rahm, who beat Finau by four shots in the 2018 Hero, enters his title defense having won his last two starts (he previously captured the Spanish Open) and three of his last 10. During that stretch, he had six other Top-13 finishes, including second at the BMW Championship and two other Top-5s.
At the other end of the spectrum is Jordan Spieth, who won 14 times worldwide in 2013-17, including three majors and the 2017 Travelers Championship when he holed a 61-foot bunker shot on the first playoff hole to beat Daniel Berger and become the only player to capture a PGA Tour event on a shot from the sand in a playoff. But Spieth played 11 events this year before recording a Top-10 and had only five such finishes as he dropped to 45th in the rankings.
“For the year, I’ve gotten just too inconsistent, too far off in the long game,” Spieth said at the BMW Championship in August. “It went down into the short game, but a tremendous improvement in my putting. I know exactly why I got off, what happened and how to get it back. I know why my swing got off. I’ve started to figure out that next step of working it back the right way and then making it consistently up there as one of the best ball-strikers in the world like I have been in the past is the next step. I’ve done it with the putting. I know I can do it with the long game.”
Spieth has had success in the Hero, tying for third in his last start in 2017. He won the event in 2014, though it was played at Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla. But Spieth isn’t the only past champion about to cap off a disappointing year. Three-time Travelers Championship winner Bubba Watson, who won in the Bahamas in 2015, had only three Top-10 finishes this year, falling from 16th to 41st in the world rankings.
Spieth nearly broke into the winner’s circle again Monday but lost to Woods in the inaugural Hero Shot at Baha Mar, an event in which six players hit shots at a floating target from 130 yards. Woods bested Spieth in the finals with a walk-off bullseye on his final shot. Other participants were Rahm, Woodland, DeChambeau and Henrik Stenson, a sponsors’ invitee to the tournament with Spieth.
Woods shared his victory on social media and jokingly asked if it counted as win No. 83 to pass Snead. No, it didn’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he set a new plateau early in 2020.
The Presidents Cup will air in prime time in the U.S. on the East Coast. And the daytime matinee for golf junkies is the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Course in Naples, Fla. The team competition hosted by 1995 Canon Greater Hartford Open winner Greg Norman includes defending champions Brian Harman and Patton Kizzire, but the duo that will draw lots of attention is rookies Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff, who received two of the four sponsors’ exemptions to the Travelers Championship and quickly earned his PGA Tour card for 2020. Wolff won the 3D Open, and Hovland got his card via strong play on the Korn Ferry Tour.