US captain Johnson: Woods will have role with Ryder Cup team

ROME (AP) — Whether Tiger Woods makes it to Italy or not for next year’s Ryder Cup, he’ll be an integral member of the U.S. team, captain Zach Johnson said Tuesday at the year-to-go ceremonies.

“Given who he is and what he’s all about, I can tell you right now, I don’t know if he’ll be here next year, but he’ll be a part of this team in some capacity,” Johnson said. “He already is, practically.

“I can’t put this mildly — he loves the Ryder Cup. He has made it a priority of his and certainly of Team USA. He wants to be a part of it as best he can.”

Woods was a player on eight Ryder Cup teams and a vice captain in 2018. But he broke bones in his right leg and ankle in a February 2021 car crash outside Los Angeles.

Next year’s event will be held on the hilly Marco Simone course outside Rome.

“Obviously he’s gone through some things as of late that make it difficult, whether it’s travel or what have you, but he and I will be in constant communication,” Johnson said. “He has great ideas. He is great at encouragement, always positive.”

The U.S. romped to a record 19-9 rout of Europe at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, last year, and also won the Presidents Cup comfortably last month.

“The beauty of where we are as Team USA is we’ve got some really great youth,” Johnson said. “And their role model on the golf course is Tiger Woods.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next September, but you can rest assured that he will be in constant communication with our team.”

LIV GOLF CONFLICT

The status of many top players for the 2023 edition is in doubt amid lawsuits filed on both sides of the Atlantic involving the Saudi-backed breakaway series LIV Golf.

But Europe captain Luke Donald said there has not been “a single discussion” with U.S. officials this week about the conflict.

Johnson also had little to say about the matter.

“We’re two separate entities and so there’s powers that be that are a lot smarter than me that deal with that. … That’s out of my realm and out of my control,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “I want 12 guys that want to be on the 2023 American Ryder Cup team.”

HILLY COURSE

Marco Simone will become the third venue in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup after Valderrama in Spain (1997) and Le Golf National in France (2018).

The course was completely redesigned with the Ryder Cup and match play in mind, with even the order and direction of some holes reversed.

The revamped course proved to be quite a test when the Italian Open was held there twice over the last 13 months.

“Thirteen under won a year ago; 14 under won this year, which (shows) that it is a good test of golf,” Donald said.

At the highest points of the course, there are views of St. Peter’s Basilica in the far distance.

“Somebody told me Marco Simone is hillier than Augusta National (and) I’m like, ‘OK right.’ Johnson said. “I think it is, to a T. It’s got everything.

“It is going to be a difficult physical test when you play four sessions in two days. So you have to take that into account. As a player, it’s hard. I can’t even imagine being a caddie and trying to walk potentially 72 holes in two days.

“Hopefully I have enough depth that I don’t have to play a guy or two all five sessions,” Johnson said. “That would be a luxury.”

The key holes all come at the end: the drivable par-4 16th, a tricky par-3 17th and a downhill par-5 18th with water lining the green.

While Rory McIlroy led a strong contingent of European players at last month’s Italian Open at Marco Simone, no big-name Americans showed up.

And Johnson doesn’t plan on encouraging his potential players to travel to the next Italian Open at Marco Simone in May.

“I don’t think that’s something that’s my role,” Johnson said, citing the travel that would involve during an intense stretch of the season. “So I can mention it, but encouragement or persuasion will not be a part of it.”

HOME ADVANTAGE

By the time of the Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 2023 event, it will have been 30 years since the last time Europe lost at home — in 1993 at The Belfry in England.

Yet considering the performance that the U.S. put on in Wisconsin, plus the Presidents Cup win featuring a team with all 12 players among the top 25 in the world ranking, the Americans could be favored next year.

“I fully expect us to be underdogs despite that percentage of (home) wins over the last 30 years,” Donald said.

Johnson was then asked if he really thought Europe is the underdog.

“I can give you a one-word answer: ‘No.’” Johnson said. “Evidently, they have been very comfortable over here for 30 years. So, ‘No.’”

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