Refreshed Woods used to the spotlight
DUBLIN, Ohio -- All eyes at Muirfield Village Golf Club this weekend will be on Tiger Woods.
For Woods, that much is familiar. So, too, is the course: He has won the Memorial five times here.
The competition is different and the format is unique, though, as the Presidents Cup is played at Muirfield for the first time.
Two weeks since the end of the FedEx Cup playoffs and the 2013 PGA Tour season -- and a week after Woods won his 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year honor -- Woods and 11 other top American players face off against an International team made up of the top 12 non-European players. The Presidents Cup will be decided by two rounds of four-ball matches, two rounds of foursome (alternate shot) matches and 12 singles matches on Sunday.
For three days, Woods will have a partner. The decision on who that partner is will ultimately be made by US team captain Fred Couples, who acknowledged on Tuesday that "everybody wants to play with Tiger."
As for who the world's No. 1 player would prefer, Woods said "whoever is playing well. Whoever can carry me is great."
He's swinging well enough to tell a joke, but this weekend's competition is serious business. It's the eighth Presidents Cup for Woods, who hasn't been on the losing side since his first, way back in 1998. He has scored the winning point in the past two.
So, it's an event with which he's familiar and this time around it's being played on a course he loves. He didn't finish strong, by his standards, in the FedEx Cup playoffs, posting only one top 10 since winning the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational in early August. But his five wins throughout the season pushed him to his first Player of the Year honor since 2009.
Woods has been dominant in Ohio throughout his career. Besides winning the Memorial five times here at Muirfield, most recently in 2012, he also won the Bridgestone in Akron in August for the eighth time.
"It's going to be fun this weekend," Woods said. "Just like every year during the Memorial, people come out and really support this event. This is obviously a sports-mad town. Hopefully we can make some birdies and get these people going."
The US enters the weekend as a heavy favorite -- Woods is one of six top-10-ranked Americans here; the International team has only three of the top 20 -- and has not only the "home" advantage but features the past three winners of the Memorial: Matt Kuchar, Woods and Steve Stricker.
"We have a very deep team, a very (good) team," Woods said.
No. 2-ranked Adam Scott anchors the international team, and the thought around Muirfield early in the week is that when the pairings are announced, Woods could be partnered with Jason Dufner, who captured his first major victory at the PGA Championship in August. Especially with the chance Scott could be opposite Woods, a Woods-Dufner pairing would make for the kind of star-studded group Woods is used to being a part of.
"We have a lot of players who have been on these teams before," Woods said. "Some of us have been (around) a long time. Phil (Mickelson) has been in these competitions for 19, 20 years, and I'm not far behind. We've got some older players with (Stricker) on here, and with (20-year-old) Jordan Spieth, it's great balance. It's fun because it's a good group of guys.
"I think it's just a matter of trying to gel that particular week. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. But the whole idea is to go out there and just play. (Unlike the Ryder Cup), you're guaranteed to play four rounds. It's more like a regular tournament."
Woods finished a busy stretch with a tie for 22nd at the Tour Championship two weeks ago, then took last weekend off.
"I chased a 4- and a 6-year old, that's (all I did)," Woods said of his weekend with his children. "I didn't touch a club until Friday, and Friday was just putting. I just shut it down, did a lot of training, got my body feeling good. By the weekend, I was full-go."
This weekend, he's refreshed and back to chasing his own high goals -- but doing it with what he hopes will be help from 11 rivals turned friends.