MELBOURNE (Reuters) - With an unblemished 3-0-0 record this week there was no better player at the Presidents Cup than U.S. captain Tiger Woods, who proved that at 43 he remains the sport's most dangerous competitor when the stakes are at their highest.
No longer the longest or strongest, Woods more than ever is a shotmaking artist, and he painted the Royal Melbourne canvas to perfection.
He was at home on a course he describes as a "combo platter" with elements of a firm British links and greens as fast as Augusta National.
Right from the very first hole on Thursday, when he used the contours of the green to punch a 55-yard pitch shot that deliciously trickled up to tap-in distance, it was clear that the 15-times major champion was on his game.
While some of his team mates struggled to adapt to the firm fairways and rock-hard greens, not so Woods, who was making his first Cup appearance since 2013 having missed the past two events due to back issues.
His three wins at Royal Melbourne took his career tally to 27, a record for the Presidents Cup.
"This is a perfect golf course. I understand how to play this kind of golf," he said.
Perhaps the only surprise was that Woods sat out both sessions on Saturday, staying with the team's game plan which assistant captain Fred Couples candidly said pre-event was for the captain to play three times.
But having given his creaky back a rest, he won the opening singles match against Abraham Ancer on Sunday to set the tone.
"I've been out in this session before as leadoff batter," Woods said after his 3&2 victory. "I'm familiar with being out front and having to lead the team from there."
As brilliantly as he played, however, it was his presence as captain that drove his players to victory this week.
Woods struck all the right notes as skipper in creating unity on the team before, during and after the event, deflecting all the praise after they came from behind to beat the Internationals 16-14 on Sunday.
With a team captaincy experience under his belt, Woods will be the U.S. Ryder Cup captain whenever he so chooses, with 2026 the most likely scenario.
That is a long way off, but the lessons he learned in Melbourne will prove invaluable when the time comes.
"It has been one of the more amazing challenges," Woods said.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina)
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