Rory McIlroy was taken aback to learn that Tiger Woods has been named a vice-captain for next year’s Ryder Cup, admitting it raises further questions about the 14-time major winner’s career.
Woods has not played since August and is currently sidelined after undergoing his third back operation in the space of 19 months at the end of October, with no timetable set for his return to action.
The 39-year-old was chosen as a vice-captain for next year’s Ryder Cup at Hazeltine by US captain Davis Love, who also added Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker to his backroom staff on Wednesday alongside former Open champion Tom Lehman.
Told of the news after his opening round in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, a visibly surprised McIlroy said: “I don’t know what to think about that, I really don’t.
“It’s great that he wants to help the US team in any way that he can, and if that’s not in a playing capacity, then as a vice-captain. Just sort of makes me think what really his health is like and how he feels like he’s going to come back from that.
“I’d rather see him on the course at Hazeltine but if not, at least he’ll be there and it will be a good addition for them.”
Woods turns 40 at the end of December and claimed the last of his 14 major titles in the US Open in 2008, but McIlroy feels he would be an inspirational figure to some of the younger players who could make the home side next year.
“I think Jordan (Spieth) and Tiger have become quite close and if you look at the likes of Justin Thomas or Daniel Berger, some of the guys that are similar age to me or a little bit younger that grew up idolising Tiger, to have someone like him to be a part of the team will be great for them.”
Love told a press conference ahead of the RSM Classic in Sea Island that Woods would even like a combined role as player and vice-captain, adding: “Tiger is very capable of doing both. He’s a different kind of player, a different kind of person.
“Tiger is so excited about it. He wants to be involved in any way. I’ve talked to him several times over the last few weeks, about his back, about how he’s feeling, how he’s practising. He wants to make the team. That’s his number one goal. But he’s also committed to helping me and the team do anything to win.”
Woods has been on just one winning Ryder Cup team, at Brookline in 1999, missing both the United States’ last victory in 2008 and last year’s defeat at Gleneagles through injury.
The 39-year-old has lost 17 of his 33 matches and admitted he would rather win a WGC event than the Ryder Cup a week before the 2002 contest, while his concession to Francesco Molinari on the final hole at Medinah in 2012 ensured an outright European win instead of a possible tie.
Love insists Woods does care about team competitions, revealing that he received numerous texts from the former world number one while acting as vice-captain to Jay Haas during the recent Presidents Cup.
And Open champion Zach Johnson is in the same camp, adding: “I don’t think people should question Tiger’s love for the Ryder Cup. He’s flat-out said he wants to be on this team. Tiger is a competitor, first. If he can’t play, he’s going to be a great assistant captain. He has a wealth of experience.
“Tiger cares. He’s passionate.”
Europe’s Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter described the appointment as a “smart move,” adding: “Why wouldn’t he want to be part of that team, whether it be playing or even vice-captain? He’s been a part of that team for so many years.
“Tiger’s Tiger. He creates a buzz whether he’s playing or not playing, so just his presence there would be a good thing for the team.”
Poulter is just a few days younger than Woods and insists being a vice-captain has not even entered his mind, but conceded: “I think his body has taken an awful lot of punishment over the last few years.
“He went back in for another back surgery, as we know and that’s obviously difficult. It’s going to be difficult for him to come back from that. It’s an early announcement but it’s not a bad announcement.”
As for whether Woods could influence the result from the sidelines, with Europe seeking an eighth win in the last 10 contests, Poulter added: “I’m not really sure a vice-captain will give any team an edge.
“I mean, he’s bringing a lot of experience, is what he is doing, and guys would respect what he’s done in the game of golf.”