Tiger-Williams showdown brings buzz

BY foxsports • November 16, 2011

The pressure on Tiger Woods to deliver at the Presidents Cup intensified when he was drawn against hometown favorite Adam Scott in Thursday’s opening matches.

Golf’s fallen superstar was a controversial captain’s pick by Fred Couples when it became apparent that his mediocre play after returning from injury in August wasn’t going to get him on the United States team.

By showing faith in Woods, who hasn’t won since his life descended into a tabloid hell two years ago, Couples left Keegan Bradley, who won twice in his rookie year -- including a major, the PGA -- off the team.

“He realizes that he was a pick,” said US assistant captain John Cook, who‘s close with Woods. “He wants to make sure that he's warranted that pick.”

Now he’ll have to deal with the added pressure of partnering with Steve Stricker against Scott and KJ Choi at Royal Melbourne in Thursday’s anchor foursomes match.

Tiger’s estranged -- and outspoken -- caddie, Steve Williams is on Scott‘s bag, leading to what’s sure to be an awkward reunion on the first tee.

Williams has been bitterly critical of Woods since being fired in July, infamously saying he wanted to shove Scott’s victory at the Bridgestone Invitational in August “right up that black arsehole.”

The two ran into each other last week at the Australian Open, where Woods said Williams apologized, but there’s little doubt that their once-close relationship remains toxic.

“Definitely added some drama to the matches,” said American rookie Nick Watney.

Although both Couples and the Internationals captain, Greg Norman, claimed they hadn’t rigged the draw, both knew this matchup would add spice to an event which has been dominated by the U.S.

“I think it’s great for the tournament,” said Norman, who played in the Internationals’ lone victory here in 1998.

“It needed to be done.”

Norman had perhaps more reason to want to get the matchup out of the way.

He didn’t want Scott, the Internationals’ highest-ranked player at No. 7 in the world, dealing with a circus atmosphere should he and Woods wind up meeting in the Sunday singles matches.

“If we had to diffuse anything and just get this thing over and done with, wouldn’t you rather have it sooner than later?” Norman said.

“Because I personally wouldn’t have wanted to be sitting down at the singles and everybody is playing a really tight match and it comes down to the last group or the second to last group, and all of this pressure is coming on because it’s the first time the two met.”

Earlier, Scott told FOXSports.com that he had no problem with playing Woods and wasn’t going to dodge him.

"I don't think there's any awkwardness between myself and Tiger,” he said.

As for Williams and Woods, Scott said “There's tons of people out on Tour and not everyone likes everyone. We're all professionals, we've all got a job to do.”

Norman was taken aback when asked whether he had consulted Williams.

“I have not even had a conversation with Steve Williams,” he said.

“His job is to carry Adam Scott’s bag and it doesn’t matter whether they are playing Tiger Woods or not.”

The Internationals -- represented this time by players of four countries, Australia, South Africa, South Korea and Japan -- seemed to treat the match as a harbinger, perhaps because they have the least to lose. After all, Woods and Stricker didn’t lose a match two years ago in San Francisco.

“We were all clapping,” said Aussie Jason Day of when the draw was announced, “I think everyone is kind of pumped for it.”

Woods said on Tuesday that he considered the matter with Williams to be over and didn‘t anticipate any tension should they face one another.

His teammates expected that he’d be ready to answer the bell.

“He’s very focused,” said David Toms.

US assistant captain Jay Haas said Woods felt that he was close to getting back to playing at his best and showing the world that he’s not a spent force.

“How motivated can he get? I don't think he can be any more motivated at any time in his life,” he said.

He will need to be motivated because the US are underdogs, despite holding a 6-1-1 advantage in the series, which began in 1994 and was styled after the Ryder Cup, which features the US against Europe.

The Internationals have made it clear that they are sick of losing. They feel that the US team is vulnerable away from North America. Only two of the two matches have been held outside of the US or Canada; the Internationals won in Australia and there was a tie in 2003 in South Africa.

“We are very, very determined,” said Robert Allenby, one of five Australians on the team. “We don’t want to lose. We have come here to win and we like our chances.”

The Internationals will be buoyed by the home crowds -- Norman says they represent “more than a 13th player” -- and the fact that venerable Royal Melbourne, one of the world’s finest courses, is difficult for a novice to master.

“I think they have six rookies on their team, so that’s going to be a challenge for them,” said Day.

But Cook thinks that this might be the week that Woods quiets his critics by leading the US to victory.

“In a relaxed state, he's fantastic, the same,” he said. “You couldn't tell if it was 2000 or 2011.”

“Anybody that's jumped off (the Woods’) bandwagon, they jumped off way too quick, because I have a feeling he's going to make people eat their words and I'll be the first one in line to congratulate him.

“Because I look forward to that moment when he does something that they figured he could never do again, and he's going to do it a lot more.”

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