By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Internationals captain Ernie Els is preparing his team for a battle with Tiger Woods on and off the course at next year’s Presidents Cup, expecting the 14-times major champion to be a playing skipper at Royal Melbourne.
Woods, who has a tournament record of 24-15-1 in eight previous appearances, was one of Steve Stricker’s non-playing assistants at the 2017 edition, which was won by the United States in New Jersey.
However, after recovering from spinal fusion surgery the 42-year-old has enjoyed a renaissance this year, capturing his first title since 2013 in September at the Tour Championship in Atlanta and climbing to 13th in the world rankings.
Four-times major winner Els, in Melbourne to promote the tournament and conduct a reconnaissance mission at the renowned Sandbelt course, said he expected Woods to bring his clubs.
“I think so, I think the way he’s playing, the way he ended last year, I mean he’s up to 13th in the world,” the South African told reporters at Metropolitan Golf Club on Sunday during the final round of the World Cup of Golf.
“I’m not sure what kind of points system they use for their selection but the way he’s going he looks like he’s going to be in contention a lot this year.
“Obviously, Augusta’s a big one and I think at the majors they win double (ranking) points or something, so I think there’s a good chance he could be in the team.
“It’s not unheard of.”
Woods would be only the second playing captain in the 12 editions of the biennial tournament, which pits the United States against an International team minus Europe, with Hale Irwin leading the United States to victory in Virginia in 1994.
“I know things have changed a little bit but we (captains) also have a lot more help than the guys did back in 1994. There’s a lot more assistant captains and so forth,” added Els, an eight-times Presidents Cup player.
He also named Australian former major winner Geoff Ogilvy, who held an individual record of seven wins, six losses and one halve in three Presidents Cup appearances, as one of his assistants on Sunday.
The Internationals’ sole triumph at the tournament came at Royal Melbourne in 1998, when Peter Thomson’s team defeated Jack Nicklaus’s United States 20.5 to 11.5.
Els and Woods were opposing players during that tournament and again at the 2011 edition at the same venue, where the United States won 19-15 and Woods holed the putt that sealed victory.
Els knows Royal Melbourne well, and holds the course record after shooting a 60 at the Heineken Classic in 2004. However, he said he expected to lean heavily on local knowledge.
Australian world number 41 Adam Scott, an eight-times Presidents Cup player, was “right at the top of the list”, Els said of his potential selections for the December 2019 tournament.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)