MELBOURNE, Australia — The motto for Tiger Woods these days is to move forward, and that covers a lot of territory.
Woods nearly made it through his entire interview Tuesday at the Presidents Cup before he was asked about the prospects of playing Adam Scott and ex-caddie Steve Williams, who caused such a stir over a racial comment he made to disparage Woods two weeks ago.
Would it not be better to face him early and get it out of the way?
“It’s already done,” Woods said. “I addressed it last week and I said life goes forward, not backward.”
He is ready to put behind a summer of injuries, especially after such a promising showing last week in the Australian Open when he was twice within one shot of the lead on the back nine and finished third, two shots behind, his best result against a full field in two years.
Woods even sounded resigned to moving beyond such a successful partnership with Steve Stricker.
It took a dozen years and 16 partners in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup until Woods found what appeared to be the perfect partner. Two years ago at Harding Park, they became the first tandem to win all four team matches in the Presidents Cup, and the first to go 4-0 in any cup in 30 years.
They won two out of three matches at the Ryder Cup last year.
But there were growing indications that U.S. captain Fred Couples might break them up for some matches when the Presidents Cup gets under way at Royal Melbourne.
“Hopefully, we’ll get put out there together,” Woods said. “I know that we feel very comfortable with one another and we were talking about it today. There’s a certain comfort level about each other’s games.”
He added, however, that the pairings for the week have not been decided.
“A lot of pairings have not been set in stone,” Woods said.
Woods was excited the way Stricker hit the ball in a practice round Tuesday, particularly because Stricker last competed Sept. 25 at the Tour Championship while dealing with a neck injury that weakened his left arm. The turf is firm at Royal Melbourne, yet Stricker never flinched when he had to go after a shot.
The problem isn’t finding a partner for Woods, rather finding a good fit for Dustin Johnson.
A year ago, the United States thought it had a dream pairing in Johnson and Phil Mickelson, a pair of swashbucklers who often play money games against each other in practice rounds at the majors.
They lost both matches badly in Wales, with neither one reaching the 17th hole.
“Me and Phil will not be playing together this week,” Johnson said with a grin. “We do better playing against each other than with each other. We’re good buddies. We love playing each other. But as Phil put it, we didn’t have good energy.”
Where does that leave Johnson? Someone suggested Woods, and he didn’t blink.
“That’s a possibility,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if we’re supposed to be saying who we are playing with yet. … Obviously, me and Tiger will be a great team if we do play together. It’s up to Captain Couples, whether he wants to put us together.”
Couples was to announce his pairings Wednesday for the opening ceremony.
This is the first time the Presidents Cup has been played at Royal Melbourne since the lone International win in 1998, and it was a rout. The 20½-11½ score was the biggest loss for the Americans in any cup.
That’s another part of Woods’ past he’s not interested in reliving, and this should be easy. All he has to do is look around him at a young American team, far different in some many ways from the team that showed up tired and unprepared 13 years ago.
Woods won his opening match with Couples, now on the Champions Tour and in his second stint as Presidents Cup captain. Five other players from that team are now on the 50-and-older tour. Woods was 22, by five years the youngest player. Now he has a receding hair line at 35, and only four other players — Stricker, Mickelson, Jim Furyk and David Toms — are older.
Woods was among nine Americans who played last week in Sydney or Singapore. At least this team, even Woods, can’t blame rust.
Royal Melbourne, meanwhile, looks pure as ever, including the firm turf on the greens that are faster than any the players have experienced since the final major of the year in August.
It’s a short course at 6,998 yards, though it’s all about angles and not simply overpowering the course.
No one knows the course better than International captain Greg Norman, a frequent winner at Royal Melbourne, or even Ernie Els, who once shot 60 in the third round, then had nines of 42-32 to hold off Adam Scott the next day.
Five players are from Australia, with all but Scott from Melbourne.
The course will be an advantage, but so will the crowd. Perhaps it’s no coincidence the only true “road” games for the Americans since this event began in 1994 were the only two times they didn’t win — Australia in 1998, a tie in South Africa in 2003.
“I don’t think we need to show our teeth,” Norman said. “The spirit of the competition is so deep, I know my guys are getting sick and tired of getting beaten. We won in ’98 and that’s it, with another tie. And they want to win. I love to hear that type of talk from my players, because when you’re an individual and you are used to winning golf tournaments and you’re not winning a certain golf tournament as a team, you want to band together very, very tightly.”
“And that’s what I’m feeling this week with my guys,” he added. “They are sick of getting beaten.”