Tiger Woods, in the midst of recuperation from a serious car accident, is already playing a key role in the US team’s preparations for the Ryder Cup later this year.
Steve Stricker, the US captain, has revealed Woods’s involvement and confirmed he will have the 15-time major winner at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin as one of his assistants if he possibly can.
Woods sustained significant leg and foot injuries in a crash in California in late February, so his playing future is a matter of debate. Yet Stricker, speaking on the eve of the US PGA Championship, explained Woods is already an integral part of Ryder Cup planning from his home in Florida.
“I’d love to have him there,” Stricker said. “Who wouldn’t, right? The guys really respect him and he did a great job obviously as a [Presidents Cup] captain. He was an assistant captain of mine in 2017 of the Presidents Cup and he was unbelievable. He would do anything for you and he’s totally, totally invested in the situation and the process and almost to the point of he’s on it early and so much. It’s like, dude, we’ve still got months to go yet.
“He’s really good at being an assistant and I’d love to have him be there if it’s at all possible. I don’t know if we are there yet to commit to him being there. He’s still got a lot going on. His spirits are great, though. We were on a Zoom call with him just this last week and he seems like he’s in a better place. Like I said, though, he’s still got some ways to go.”
Stricker added a promise he had received from Woods. “He said: ‘I don’t know if I can be there or not but you know I’m here for you all the way up to the Ryder Cup,’” the captain added. “That shows his level of commitment to me, to the team and his desire to be there if he can be.”
To many, this marks a departure for Woods. For much of his career, he endured a troubled relationship with the Ryder Cup. Stricker believes any sense Woods cared little for the team environment was “unfair” . Stricker added: “As an assistant captain, he is all-in with everybody and the players love it. They love being around him and he adds a tremendous amount when he is there. As assistant captain, it’s almost like he’s taken it up a notch.
“He was a difficult guy to pair with. I can say that because I was his partner and we had a great partnership. But he’s the best player in the world and you have to be OK with playing with the best player in the game. There’s some expectation put on the partner.”
Stricker, at 54, is clearly one of the outsiders in the 156-man field at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. A venue that draws frequent comparisons with British and Irish links courses has been profitable for European players. Rory McIlroy cantered to victory here in this event nine years ago.
“The PGA Championship in my mind has always been the fairest championship and probably the strongest field of all the major championships,” Stricker said. “I think we have 99 of the [top] 100 in the world here. That’s pretty tough to beat. So those two things always stick out in my mind. It’s probably the toughest to win because it’s so strong and it’s always been set up very fairly. Difficult but fair.
“I’m interested in watching this week, watching the players who play well here because it’s kind of got a very similar feel [to Whistling Straits]. That’s not Lake Michigan out there but it’s got the same look and same feel and the wind can blow at Whistling Straits, as well.”
Collin Morikawa, who won this tournament last year at Harding Park in California, provided a statistical quirk. “This is the first tournament I’ve defended since the 2017 Sunnehanna Amateur,” said the world No 4. “I haven’t defended any of my college events, I’ve never defended any of my PGA Tour wins. People came up to me and called me a DC and I was like, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ Obviously it means defending champion.” Now Morikawa rather fancies TIAR, or two in a row.