Tiger turns Presidents Cup into catfight

The rub on the fledgling Presidents Cup has always been that it’s too friendly to really mean anything.

Unlike the Ryder Cup, which is no laughing matter, the Presidents Cup matches are played in a relaxed atmosphere befitting the fact that they pit one group of professional golfers — who happen to be American — against their friends and neighbors in Florida, who happen to be from somewhere other than the US or Europe.

“(The Ryder Cup) appears to carry an astonishing amount of tension, which is what makes the event so appealing to watch because of the obvious levels of animosity,” says Australian Geoff Ogilvy.

Ogilvy and his captain, Greg Norman, appear determined to alter the temperature of this Presidents Cup, to be played next month in Australia.

Norman, in his second campaign as Internationals captain, has in recent weeks twice publicly called out Tiger Woods, the somewhat controversial captain’s choice of Freddie Couples for the matches at Royal Melbourne.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, given the bad blood between Norman and Woods, dating to when they shared coach Butch Harmon. Sharing’s a difficult proposition for two men accustomed to getting their way.

“Tiger and Greg don’t speak,” said a source who knows both well. “There’s a lot of animosity between them.”

Indeed, one reason Woods wanted the word spread about the course-record 62 he shot at the Medalist course in Jupiter, Fla., a few weeks ago is that Norman’s best score on the course he co-designed is 64.

It was a classic retaliation at the Great White Shark’s declaration a week beforehand that Woods would never win another major.

Norman fired back Sunday, saying that Couples should have chosen Keegan Bradley instead of Woods.

"I can understand the name of a Tiger Woods and his history of what he’s done on the golf course," Norman began. "But I pick the guys who I think are ready to get in there and play and have performed to the highest levels leading up to it. I just don’t think he’s swinging the golf club the way he used to when he won all those major championships. He’s a different player out there nowadays.”

That one cuts close to the bone for Couples, who raised eyebrows by leaving Bradley, a two-time winner in his rookie year — one of them the PGA Championship — off the team.

“It’s kind of a touchy subject,” said Bradley, who won the PGA Grand Slam of Golf this week, “(Norman) obviously has a lot of faith in me, which I really appreciate. Greg Norman is a great guy.”

The usually laid-back Couples, however, wasn’t feeling so warm and fuzzy.

"I have no problem with Greg," Couples said. "He can say whatever he wants, but I’m not really into that. I play golf with my clubs.

"Robert Allenby is his pick, and Aaron Baddeley, and they’re Australians and I think they’re great picks. But I think I can sit here and say Robert Allenby hasn’t won a tournament in 10 years.”

There’s back story to that dig, too.

Allenby annoyed Couples at the previous Presidents Cup matches, two years ago in San Francisco, when he accused golf’s reigning hedonist, Anthony Kim, of arriving back at the team hotel “sideways” only hours before their Sunday morning singles match.

And while it’s true that Allenby — who grew up playing Royal Melbourne — hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2001, he’s still had seven wins around the world since, including Australia’s Triple Crown — the Aussie Masters, PGA and Open — in 2005.

If Couples thought he’d ended the story, he was wrong. Peter Thomson, a five-time British Open champion who captained the Internationals to their only victory, also at Royal Melbourne, in 1998, also second-guessed Couples.

”There are better accomplished players now available,” Thomson said. ”It’s a pretty wild guess, I think, on Couples’ part, that he’s going to suddenly play well and win points.”

Ogilvy joined the fracas Wednesday.

“I don’t agree with the way (Couples) picked (Woods), announcing it months early,” the 2006 US Open champion said. “Basically telling the guys who are on the fringe of the US team there’s really only going to be one pick.”

Ogilvy also singled out Bradley as the biggest loser.

“I’m not going to stand up and say Tiger is a horrible pick, but I’m going to say it’s very disappointing that Keegan Bradley doesn’t get to play,” Ogilvy said.

But if the truth were told, Couples’ choice of Woods isn’t much different than Norman’s 2009 pick of Adam Scott, his protégé who, at the time, was mired in a deep slump.

Scott credited the faith Norman showed in him then as one of the reasons for his turnaround.

Maybe the same thing will happen with Woods?

“I hope in Fred picking Tiger, it does for him what happened to Adam Scott when I picked him in 2009,” Norman told me in an email on Wednesday. “I have said this before and I will say it again, I hope Tiger does turn his game around. It would be great for golf.

“I have said all I need to say about this.”

Maybe, but don’t bet it’s the last we’ve heard on the subject.