CHASKA, Minn. — The first awkward moment for Tiger Woods at the Ryder Cup came when he lined up to get into the U.S. team picture.
Oops, sorry Tiger, only players are allowed.
The second awkward moment came when he walked through a tunnel in the grandstands onto the No. 1 tee for a practice round. Instead of carrying a driver, he was holding a hot drink.
Woods has played in seven Ryder Cups. This will be his first as a non-playing assistant captain, which will take some getting used to for everyone, including Woods.
He spent Wednesday morning walking with a foursome of players that evidently are his charge at the Ryder Cup. Woods seemed happy, smiling much of the time, but rooting on other players has never been his thing.
It is at this Ryder Cup, though, after Woods volunteered to help Davis Love III as an assistant captain. He is one of five on the team — but the only one who has won 14 majors.
Woods probably should be home practicing. After a 14-month absence, he plans to return to competitive golf in a little more than two weeks at the Safeway Open in California and surely his game needs some work.
But here he is, determined to show he’s a team player and eager to do whatever he can to help the U.S. break a losing streak to Europe in the hotly contested team event.
Just what he is doing isn’t quite clear, though he and Phil Mickelson did entertain players Monday night in the team room with tales of their disastrous pairing in the 2004 Ryder Cup.
And a few weeks back he called up Brandt Snedeker to bend his ear about what they should be doing for the team.
“To say it’s unusual to get a call from Tiger Woods would be pretty accurate. I don’t get a lot of those calls,” Snedeker said. “Got to the point where I was joking around, like you’re calling me more than my wife is right now, we need to figure something out.”
There may also come a point where Woods steps in front of the team to give it a rah-rah speech, but until then, he’s basically the minder for a team “pod” that includes Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar.
One thing Woods probably won’t be doing is delivering turkey sandwiches to players on the course, like Love did on Wednesday.
“We’re defining our roles, you know, as what we’re going to do out on the golf course,” Love said. “For example, I saw Tiger on, I don’t know, 12, 13, I said, ‘How’s it going?’ He goes, ‘Perfect.’ I don’t have to worry about Tiger and his group.”
Woods hasn’t played in the Ryder Cup since being on the losing side in 2010, and it’s one competition where he hasn’t exactly shined. He has a career 13-17-3 record and has played on only one winning team in his seven Ryder Cups.
At the age of 40 he’s embarking on a comeback, trying desperately to regain his form after surgery on his back. No one is selling him short, but the days of Woods dominating whenever he teed it up are likely long gone.
Even as an assistant, though, Woods still moves the needle. That was evident Wednesday when fans yelled out his name as he walked between holes, like he was one of the players.
“Thanks for coming Tiger,” one yelled out.
Woods declined interviews coming into the Ryder Cup, preferring to keep his role in the background. But Mickelson said he and Woods have been talking daily for the past few weeks about various pairings to send out for the U.S. team.
“It’s been really exciting for us because we’ve been on so many teams for so many years,” Mickelson said.
At one point a few weeks ago, Woods joked to Love that he was giving him too much to do as an assistant. But he seems to be enjoying his role, even as he deals with the uncertainty of his own comeback attempt.
That may largely be due to Love giving a lot of say in this team to veteran players and assistants. Mickelson is basically a co-captain with Love, and Woods doesn’t have to speak up to be heard.
It may look awkward, but it may just work.
And that could make this Ryder Cup a lot more fun for Woods than most of those he actually played in.