Woods embraces new Ryder Cup role as vice captain at Hazeltine

Tiger gives Team USA a good laugh (0:39)

When vice-captain Tiger Woods tried to join the American team photo at the Ryder Cup, he gave everyone what was likely an unintentional comedic moment, says ESPN.com's Michael Collins. (0:39)

CHASKA, Minn. -- Tiger Woods has had little success altering the outcome of the Ryder Cup, playing on just one winning U.S. team. This week, he attempts to make an impact in another way, as a vice captain at Hazeltine National.

And by numerous accounts, Woods is all in.

The 14-time major champion, who has not played this year while recovering from back surgery, was named one of Davis Love III's vice captains nearly a year ago, and the speculation immediately began as to Woods' involvement.

Would he be a glorified cart driver with no duties? Or would he embrace the role and get involved? Woods has clearly taken the appointment seriously.

"I am so happy to see how well-thought-through he has been,'' said Phil Mickelson, who will play on his 11th consecutive U.S. Ryder Cup team. "I can't believe our conversations, how detail-oriented he has been. The players, the pairings, the possibilities.

"Not just what match you will play, but where on the list. He has got us a good, solid game plan that is easy to buy into and get behind. I'm very impressed.''

Woods' role is far from ceremonial. From all indications, the U.S. team will use a pod-like system employed by captain Paul Azinger in 2008 -- the last time the U.S. won the Ryder Cup.

Under that formula, Azinger divided his team into three groups of four players each. Those groups practiced together in the days leading up to the Ryder Cup and it was made clear that their partners in the foursomes and four-ball matches would not come from anywhere outside that group.

A similar approach is being taken this year, and Woods is apparently the one who has spearheaded the system. He has been crunching numbers behind the scenes and figuring out the best matchups among players. The other vice captains under Love are Tom Lehman, who captained the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team, Steve Stricker, who will captain next year's U.S. Presidents Cup team, and Jim Furyk, who will likely get strong consideration to be the U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 2018.

"He's been amazingly involved,'' Love said of Woods. "He's been very thoughtful in the way that he's handled the Tiger Woods factor of being an influence, but also being a distraction.

"His openness of helping us with strategy, getting into how he prepares; that he'll pick up the phone and call Phil Mickelson and work on things; that he'll call Matt Kuchar. I gave him a list of guys to ask who they wanted to pick and who they wanted to play with. He's just been willing to do anything we ask, just like Jim and Tom and Steve.

"But his role has been more on strategy and helping us think out pairings and think out a game plan for actually playing the matches and playing the golf course.''

Woods certainly has experience there. He has twice finished runner-up in major championships at Hazeltine, to Rich Beem at the 2002 PGA Championship and to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA.

He also has plenty of Ryder Cup experience, although it has mostly been in a losing effort. Woods played on the 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012 teams. The only winning effort was on the '99 squad that came from four points down on the final day.

Woods' record has been the source of consternation, as he is just 13-17-3 in seven appearances, although he has just one loss in singles that came in his first Ryder Cup.

Of course, some of that can be attributed to the overall difficulties the U.S. side has had. Furyk and Mickelson also have losing Ryder Cup records. Woods had 12 different partners in 26 team matches.

But he is still Tiger Woods, and a good number of the players on the team look up to him and respect him. His knowledge and insight will be invaluable. And then there are other factors.

"It will be difficult for our rookies when he is standing there," said Colin Montgomerie, who captained the 2010 European Ryder Cup team to victory in Wales. He was also 3-2 playing against Woods in team Ryder Cup matches. "You know Tiger is there, you know he is well up for it, the crowd will be there chanting Tiger's name. That is an added incentive for America.

"If I had someone of that stature for my first game -- if Jack Nicklaus had been standing there on the first tee or Arnold Palmer -- my God, you would feel it. And Tiger will be used as much as possible to be that way. It was a bit of a coup to get Tiger involved."

Woods was initially part of the 11-person Ryder Cup Task Force that was formed after the defeat at Gleneagles two years ago -- the Americans' eighth loss in 10 Ryder Cups. It was compromised of current and past players and captains as well as PGA of America executives.

They dug down into some of the reasons for the U.S. shortcomings, many of which the players believe is a lack of input in the process and how they approach Ryder Cup week -- which is unlike any other golf tournament. Included was a revamping of the qualifying structure and the timing of captain's picks.

That task force was disbanded after Love was a mildly surprising choice: He is the first captain for the U.S. since Jack Burke Jr. (1957, 1973) to do it a second time after losing the first.

The task force was replaced by a committee that is comprised of Love, Woods, Mickelson and three executives from the PGA of America.

"Just his presence is going to buoy our team,'' Love said. "If he is just standing there and says, 'Hey, we just made a birdie, go get 'em,' that's going to be unbelievable.''

Woods, who announced that he hopes to play in two weeks at the Safeway Open, has declined interview requests leading into the Ryder Cup. He is said to be fully focused on his vice captain duties and did not want to be treated any differently.

But when asked about it last year, Woods seemed fully invested.

"We worked our tails off to get this thing rolling in the right direction for not just this Cup but for next subsequent 10 Cups,'' Woods said. "I think we can do that. I think we have the blueprint. I think we have the right people in place, and I think we set up really well for Cups down the road and who's going to be involved.

"But eventually it's up to the players and up to us to try and hopefully help them, [in] whatever capacity that is, and win the Cup back.''