Tiger time in Melbourne beckons following historic win

Tiger Woods’ victory at the ZOZO Championship in Japan means the 82-time PGA Tour winner looks set to give himself a captain’s pick.

Presidents Cup media release

With a stunning win in his only outing before next week’s deadline for Captain’s picks, Tiger Woods has all but confirmed he intends to be a playing captain at December’s Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

“I think the player definitely got the captain’s attention,” Woods said after winning the ZOZO Championship in Japan, and with it a record-equalling 82nd PGA TOUR victory.

Woods returned from knee surgery in August and a nine-week break from competitive play to stun the world-class field finishing 19-under par with rounds of 64, 64, 66, 67.

The 15-time major champion recovered from three consecutive bogeys on his opening three holes before rattling off nine birdies to lead after the opening round.  He was never headed and with the win, Woods tied Sam Snead’s TOUR record of 82 career victories, 23 years after his first victory.  He is expected to move to No.6 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Woods held off International Team member Hideki Matsuyama of Japan to win by three strokes.

The ZOZO Championship was his only chance to confirm his form and with his stunning win the 43-year-old showed he will not only remain a force but could be the U.S Team’s number-one weapon at Royal Melbourne.

“This was certainly demanding,” Woods said.

Being in the lead for the better part of five days puts a stress on the mind and it’s not easy to do, not easy to handle.  Its stressful. Somehow I was able to finish on top.”

“The way I started this week, who would have guessed bogeying the first three holes, that I’d come out and shoot the numbers that I shot.”

“I didn’t really know that I’d come back and play at this level, but the fact I’ve been able to get down and read putts again, it’s something that I haven’t been able to do in months. It’s subtle and simple but it makes a difference.

Following his epic Masters win in April, Woods played sparingly for the reminder of the season and ended the season 13th in the final Presidents Cup standings in August. However, despite the end-of-season results he continued to sign his Presidents Cup blogs as ‘Playing Captain’.

His final outing will be at his own event in the Bahamas the week before the Presidents Cup, at the Hero World Challenge from 4-7 December.

U.S. Team hopeful and reigning U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, who finished 10th in the Presidents Cup standings to just miss an automatic pick, made the most of the opportunity to play his final two rounds with Woods, to finish tied for 5th. Woodland is seeking his first Presidents Cup appearance when Woods announces his picks next week (Friday 8th November AEST).

Woodland said playing with Woods was an experience to remember. Saying it would “dumb” if he doesn’t pick himself to be playing Captain at Royal Melbourne.

“If he doesn’t, it’s dumb, because right now it’s hard to bet against him in anything, especially in matchplay. He’s going to have a force whether he’s playing or not, but I would pick him,” Woodland said.

“Watching him the last couple of rounds, it was a ball striking exhibition. Everything was just good.”

Other players seeking Presidents Cup selection in the field included 2019 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Sungjae Im (Korea) finished tied for third and Corey Conners (Canada) posted his third consecutive top 15 finish to finish tied sixth with Korean Ben An tied for eighth. Australian Jason Day, who is also potentially in line for one of Ernie Els’, picks finished tied 22nd.

Both teams will be finalised next week when Woods and Els reveal the final four players to round out their respective teams.

Woods has plenty of options, including himself and Woodland along with five-time major champion and 2019 PGA Tour winner Phil Mickelson, three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, plus world No. 12 Tony Finau, world No. 16 and former Masters champion Patrick Reed, world No. 20 Rickie Fowler and recent PGA TOUR winner and world No. 23 Kevin Na.

There’s even been talk of one or two of the future stars of U.S. golf getting a nod, such as Cameron Champ, Matthew Wolff or Collin Morikawa.

All but Mickelson appear to have their hands up, with the veteran team member saying his form isn’t up to it and he doesn’t expect to be picked, breaking his streak of playing in every edition of the Presidents Cup since its inception in 1994.

On the International Team front, Els is playing a ‘Moneyball’ style game of analysing the analytics.

“We’re using a difference system, and a lot of it’s got to do with the data of certain players and so on and matching them up that way,” Els has said.

“How are we going to pair up these guys? Are we going to use that kind of data? And then we’ll also use a different format where we look at their respective personalities. We’ll put personalities together… although that really hasn’t worked that well for us in the past. I might have to go more the data way. We’ll see.”

“They’ve got to really show me something to go down the list because I’ve got guys knocking on the door like Jason [Day] and I’ve got Justin Harding and I’ve got Jazz [Janewattananond], who’s won twice on the Asian Tour this year. I’ve got Sungjae Im, who’s played 34 events on the [PGA)] Tour and made it to the TOUR Championship as a rookie.

Other potential International Team picks include South Koreans Kim Si-woo, Kang Sung and Ben An, Canada’s Corey Conners and Adam Hadwin and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo. And you can add Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and Colombian Sebastian Muñoz, both early season winners on the PGA TOUR.

All will be revealed next week when Els makes his selections on Thursday 7 November and Woods confirms his picks on Friday 8 November (7th Nov in US).

The Presidents Cup will return to Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Golf Club for the third time, from 9-15 December, 2019.

Tickets are available at www.PresidentsCup.com

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