OpinionAugust 15, 2010

Corey And Tiger: Soap Opera Stars

Elena Kagan was confirmed as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court on Aug. 6. Thank goodness that's over so we can all focus on truly important matters -- such as whether U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin will choose Tiger Woods for his team.

That question turned into the biggest soap opera at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

Will Corey ask Tiger to go to Wales with him? Will Tiger say yes? Will he say no? Maybe? Will Corey overcome the on-rushing media? Can he and Jim Gray ever be friends again? Were they ever really friends?

All these questions, and more, will be answered in the next episode of "How The Cup Turns."

Please.

The importance of the captain's picks has become more and more overblown, in part because Europe has won or retained the Cup in eight of the last 12 contests and in part because the PGA of America milks the process for every last glint of limelight possible.

Once upon a time, the U.S. captain quietly announced his picks the Monday after the PGA Championship. Now the captain holds a press conference the day after the PGA to discuss the eight automatic qualifiers and flies to New York for a second press conference to announce his four captain's picks the day after Labor Day. What next: an Electoral College vote to make it all official?

This year, the whole process has run completely amok because of the separate soap opera that Woods has become. Once, he was an automatic for the team -- albeit kicking and screaming -- because he was always a qualifier. That hasn't been the case this year. As a result, Woods and Pavin have been peppered all summer with questions about Woods' status.

The answers should be easy. Does Corey Pavin want the most dominant player in the game's history on his team? Of course. Does Woods, who waves the flag every chance he gets in the name of his late father, want to represent his country?

Absolutely.

Except that's not the case -- on either side. Pavin knows Woods' Ryder Cup record is mediocre (10-13-2). He knows the only thing that made Woods happy about his knee surgery two years ago was that it meant he didn't have to play the Ryder Cup. And he knows the U.S. team's victory in 2008 without Woods might not have been a coincidence.

Then there's Woods' side of the story: If his personal scandal had never unfolded, Woods probably would have told Pavin weeks ago, "Don't pick me, use my lousy play as the reason." But life has changed in Tigerworld. For the first time, he needs the Ryder Cup more than the Ryder Cup needs him. He needs the image rehab that can come with playing for the good old U.S.A. and partnering with "the guys."

That's why neither Pavin nor Woods want to make a commitment until the last possible minute. Which is why it was surprising when Gray reported on Golf Channel that Pavin said he would certainly pick Woods for the team. According to Gray, Pavin told him this in a conversation outside the Whistling Straits clubhouse.

In all likelihood the two men misunderstood each other. Gray no doubt thought Pavin had told him he was going to pick Woods. Pavin no doubt thought he had told Gray that the No. 1 player in the world had to be someone who would be seriously considered.

When Gray reported that Pavin had said categorically that Woods would be on the team, Pavin angrily denied it. He all but called Gray a liar. This -- understandably -- made Gray very unhappy. Gray confronted Pavin at the conclusion of yet another press conference (for Pavin and European captain Colin Montgomerie) about the denial. Things got heated, with Pavin's wife Lisa later joining the argument and taping the confrontation.

The bottom line is this: When Sept. 7 finally arrives and the world endures yet another PGA press conference, Pavin has to pick Woods -- and Woods has to play. Pavin will reveal three other picks that day and how well they play will probably decide the outcome of the Ryder Cup. Of course almost no one talked about that during the PGA.

That's because it wasn't the stuff that makes a good soap opera.