Tiger Woods, Ernie Els can’t escape Patrick Reed questions with Presidents Cup looming

December 10, 2019
Ernie Els and Tiger Woods

MELBOURNE, Australia – Tiger Woods arrived in the Presidents Cup host city after almost 30 hours inside what he described as a “luxurious tin can.”

Woods and his U.S. team made the journey across the Pacific Ocean from the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas aboard a custom Boeing 777-200LR called “Crystal Skye.” The luxury aircraft reportedly costs $55,000 per hour to operate and features 88 fully-reclining seats (each with its own 24-inch HD monitor), a champagne bar, a social lounge, a team of butlers and a gourmet kitchen staffed by an executive chef.

“There’s a nice, open area where guys could mingle and have fun,” Woods told the media Tuesday morning at Royal Melbourne. “There was a lot of card-playing, a lot of trash-talking, a lot of needling. It was literally nonstop for over a day. We also had some meetings talking about a few things.”

Among those things, naturally, was the rules controversy that embroiled Patrick Reed over the weekend at the Hero World Challenge. And, yes, Captain Woods said, he did address the matter with Reed.

“It was not a lengthy conversation,” Woods said. “Pat and I are very good friends. We kept it short and brief, to the point. … I think Pat will be fine. He is a great kid. He’s handled a tough upbringing well, and I just think that he’s one of our best team players and is one of the reasons why all the guys wanted him on the team.”

How Reed will be received by the galleries at Royal Melbourne is yet to be seen, but it’s safe to say his reception won’t be all warm and fuzzy.

“I’m sure somebody’s going to say something out there,” Woods said of the crowds. “But I think all the times I have been to Australia and have played here, the fans have been fantastic.”

Reed’s two-shot penalty — and dubious explanation — prompted several players at last week’s Australian Open, including International team debutant Cameron Smith, to voice disappointment in the 2018 Masters winner’s actions. Smith and teammate Marc Leishman said they were anticipating the Melbourne crowds to “give it to” Reed during the Cup. International captain Ernie Els agreed.

“Well, I think it’s only natural,” the South African said Tuesday, before supporting his players’ comments. “These guys [the Internationals] are competitors. Obviously, they didn’t like what they saw [from Reed].

“But we’re moving on; we’ve got a Cup to play for.  It’s got nothing to do with us. I think Tiger’s dealing with it and Patrick’s dealing with that. There’s nothing more to be said.”

There is, of course, plenty more to be said, but the captains have full schedules this week.

Only hours after touching down in Melbourne, Woods and his rival skipper conducted some Presidents Cup promo work on Melbourne’s Yarra River, lobbing wedge shots to a temporary island green in front of a lively Aussie crowd. Woods rinsed both of his attempts at the 75-yard shot but wasn’t too dispirited to admire the swing of world No. 1 women’s tennis player, Australian Ash Barty. The reigning French Open champion, who dabbled as a professional cricket player, hit a couple of wedges so smoothly that Woods, an avid tennis fan, said: “That’s a great golf swing, are you kidding me?”

But on Tuesday, Woods had his game face back as his team got in some reps at Royal Melbourne. Speaking to the press, Woods, like Els, was keen to stifle the Reed chatter and move on to the topic of the matches themselves, where his team has an utterly dominant record of 10-1-1. Team USA, even without the injured Brooks Koepka, is stacked with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland.

“I think our strength is that we are a very deep team,” Woods said. “The guys have played well this entire year. … We had 11 out of 12 guys play [in the Bahamas] last week, so it was nice for them to shake off some rust. Get a feel for things.”

Els is equally as confident as Woods, even if the Internationals don’t have the results to back it up. They’ve lost all seven Cups since the tie in South Africa in 2003. The team has seen a changing of the guard, with newcomers like Smith, Abraham Ancer and Haotong Li joining veterans like Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott. They’re also returning to the site of the Internationals’ only triumph, in 1998.

“I’ve got a great young team,” Els said. “I’ve got some experienced players. Guys are naturally just standing up, who are quite comfortable to speak and I like that. I like the spirit we have this week.”

Els then acknowledged that Woods’ presence has taken the Presidents Cup — which has struggled to achieve the level of attention the Ryder Cup enjoys — to a different level.

“It’s been a real privilege to have played in his era, where the game of golf has gone in the last 25 years is just remarkable,” Els said. “It could not be where it is today if it wasn’t for Tiger Woods.

“With all that being said, we’d like to kick their asses this week here at home.”

Let the games begin.

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