Question marks surround U.S. team
MELBOURNE, Australia -- After his best tournament in some two years, Tiger Woods left the Australian Open venue in Sydney on Sunday evening and immediately headed to Melbourne, where the U.S. Presidents Cup team was to convene on Monday in advance of this week's competition.
And just as sure as Woods has plenty to feel good about after making a run at the title before finishing two shots behind Australian Greg Chalmers, he no doubt will again face scrutiny over the coming days as his place on the team will again be debated.
While Woods was the low American in the field at The Lakes Golf Club -- and several of his teammates didn't exactly show themselves to be in top form -- Woods nonetheless remains a controversial captain's pick of Fred Couples, who selected the former No. 1 player in the world despite a lengthy bout with the injuries and poor play.
As Woods said when asked about all the critics: "I'm grateful that Fred is the captain and not them.''
Woods will arrive at Royal Melbourne having played just 11 tournaments this year, although coming off his best finish -- a third at the Australian Open -- which was his best finish in an official event since he won the Australian Masters two years ago.
Of course, prognosticating how a player's stroke-play form will translate to match play prowess is typically a difficult endeavour. The formats are different enough that a player can both hide or be exposed, depending on circumstances.
"Let's get real about this whole thing,'' said John Cook, longtime friend of Woods and assistant captain for the U.S team. "His true friends have never given up on him. I think that's why Fred picked him. He's never given up on him. And he was satisfied with what Tiger was doing.
"And then, how could you not pick him?''
Well, there are plenty who believe that PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who won twice this year and had only the 2011 season to earn points due to his rookie status, was more deserving.
Bradley was the odd man out when Couples announced early on that Woods would get one of his two picks. Bill Haas -- just two days after winning the Tour Championship, his only title of the year -- got the other spot.
If recent form is any indicator, Couples might have more than Woods to worry about this week. While four International team members finished in the top 10 in Sydney -- Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley -- only Woods and Nick Watney were that high at the Australian Open.
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And then there is the health of Steve Stricker. The 2011 two-time winner on the PGA Tour has not played since the Tour Championship. The week prior he withdrew from the BMW Championship with a shoulder and neck injury that is still an issue, although Stricker intends to play at Royal Melbourne. He practiced last week in Arizona and arrived in Australia over the weekend.
Woods went 2-1 with Stricker at last year's Ryder Cup and was 4-0 with him two years ago at the Presidents Cup. Woods is a combined 8-1 in that last two team competitions.
"I picked him,'' Couples said. "I believe in the guy forever.''
Woods is undoubtedly gratified by the faith and confidence that Couples has shown in him. And his teammates seemingly have no problem with him being part of the Presidents Cup team. They know what he's done for the game, know what he's done in these recent competitions.
Meanwhile, a few foul balls in such a competition are not as devastating as they can be in stroke play, and Woods no doubt relishes the opportunity to put his game under the heat of this competition.
And certainly four days in Sydney did not hurt.
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"From a competitive environment, no doubt,'' Woods said. "Golf course-wise, it's going to be totally different. The greens will be much quicker, much firmer. I know the fairways have been slowed down, so we're going to take a look at that.
"It will be nice to get with the team, map out the strategy. Figure out who's teeing off on what holes, what balls we're going to be using and all that kind of stuff that goes in these team events.''
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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2011 PRESIDENTS CUP
2011 champion: United States, 19-15
Course: Composite Course, Royal Melbourne Golf Club
Where: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Yardage, par: 6,996 yards, par-71
Topics: The Presidents Cup
Rosters: United States | International