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Couples expecting static over Cup picks? Happy to oblige

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist

The last time we saw Tiger, he was missing the cut at the PGA while sinking to 50th in the world. (Getty Images)  
The last time we saw Tiger, he was missing the cut at the PGA while sinking to 50th in the world. (Getty Images)  

The phone connections were abysmal and words were lost, muddled and mixed up.

So, in general, it was sort of like a certain captain himself.

At the end of the teleconference that was convened Tuesday night to announce the captain's picks for the Presidents Cup rosters, Fred Couples left his speakerphone device open, and for listeners who were slow to hang up their own phones, Couples could be heard grousing about the blowback he already was receiving.

"Here come the text messages," he said, very distinctly.

Then he followed up with what sounded like, "Haas? Christ."

In other, decidedly clear words, there was no need to wait for the morning papers or columnists to weigh in -- fans and friends apparently had noted the mental disconnect of Couples' dunderheaded predicament already.

After backing himself into a corner by naming world No. 50 Tiger Woods to the team a month before Tuesday's deadline, Couples added his second and final pick, 29-year-old Bill Haas, who won the Tour Championship in Atlanta on Sunday with a playoff victory over Hunter Mahan.

So go ahead, let the second-selection second-guessing begin. Personally, I already had my motor running weeks ago.

In a move that was all but telegraphed when Haas won Sunday night, Couples made it official when he left two-time 2011 winner Keegan Bradley off the team, writing the wrong kind of history in the process.

Make that writing ignominy.

One of Bradley's victories was a major, the PGA Championship, but because he is a rookie and team standings are compiled over two seasons, he didn't amass enough points to make the U.S. roster's automatic top 10. Thus, he becomes the first player to win two times in a season, including a major championship, and get stiffed on making the Presidents Cup team that same year.

So, kudos, Cap'n Couples. You just hosed the guy who very possibly will be named both the PGA Tour Player of the Year, and Rookie of the Year.

Oh, that would represent a tour first too.

When I noted the insanity of all those possibilities to Bradley after he finished his final round in Atlanta, he smirked and chose his words very carefully. If only Couples had put as much thought into his picks.

"I don't know where that stands, but that would definitely be interesting to be the Player of the Year and not be picked," Bradley said, charitably. "But it's the way it goes with two years of points. As much as I want to say I should be on the team, I didn't qualify, so you have to rely on a pick."

Which means we have to rely on Freddie's discretion, which makes many of us grimace. Couples explained that he assembled his captaincy brain trust before making the last of his two picks, not that it will make some folks feel any better. That means he consulted with Michael Jordan, a close friend and gambling buddy of Woods, and Jay Haas, Billy Haas' father, before making up his mind.

Bet that makes Bradley feel better, huh? There's no possibility of a nepotism issue there, and Jordan is obviously qualified to render an opinion because he led the NBA in scoring, played for Dean Smith and has been such a paragon of sound judgment, class and virtue over the years.

If Couples was going this far off the reservation, he should have called his pal Robin Williams, whom Couples actually considered using as a vice-captain in the 2009 Presidents Cup matches.

Because if you're going to make the process a complete joke, at least Williams would have made it funnier.

Let's filter out the teleconference audio noise and get to the gist. To begin with, even with the familial discomfort of having his dad on the captaincy staff, there's nothing objectionable to me about picking Haas, who won a tournament Sunday with $11.4 million on the line and hit a series of insanely entertaining recovery shots. Haas has two playoff losses and three wins in the past two years -- only Steve Stricker has more victories in that span with four.

That leaves us with the other pick, the million-pound elephant in the room, which has become more indefensible with every passing week. Woods has skidded 48 spots in the world this year, hasn't won a PGA Tour event in two seasons and was grandfathered onto the team based on his resume, friendship with Couples, or because the networks wanted him on the squad -- take your pick.

He was a political appointee, as we call 'em here in Florida, where this type of thing happens so often, we hardly bother to roll our eyes anymore.

The PGA Tour is giddy with delight that the Couples picks are being hyper-scrutinized, because that means the event, which began in 1994, is becoming more legitimized. But naming Woods to the team only underscores that it's still a second-rate exhibition.

"If Keegan would have finished fourth or fifth last week and Bill would have lost to Hunter Mahan, the others assistants will tell you that Keegan would have been chosen," Couples said Tuesday night.

Again, Haas isn't the issue, and while Bradley had a rough FedEx series in general, he finished T11 in Atlanta and finished ahead of seven of the nine U.S. players on the team at that point. Two others on the team, Jim Furyk and Woods, didn't even qualify for the event. Using the argument of current form when the event is six weeks away is really a reach, anyway.

From Stars and Stripes to Scars and Snipes, Couples deserves all the catcalls, texts and ridicule he'll get. For all the time he claims he invested in mulling his options, he just can't get it right.

Remarkably, the jilted Bradley is the lone American to have won a major this season, which he accomplished in his first Grand Slam appearance.

"Yeah, and if I am not mistaken, he's the only American with a major the last two years," Couples said on the teleconference call.

Bzzzzzt. Once again, wrong. Phil Mickelson won the Masters in 2010. A week earlier, Couples said he thought Zach Johnson still had a chance to earn a captain's pick if he played well at the Tour Championship ... when Johnson wasn't in the field.

Since the Presidents Cup matches began 17 years ago, the only other time a U.S. player counted a major among his two victories in the same season and was left off the roster for an international competition that year was in 2004, when Todd Hamilton didn't get a spot on the Ryder Cup team. But Hamilton was a journeyman player and wasn't the lone Yank to win a major that year, either. Close, but not the same analogy.

As Haas was headed toward the final holes of regulation on Sunday night in Atlanta, Bradley signed his card and already seemed to sense that bad news was headed his way.

"If I am not on the team, I would be devastated," Bradley said. "It would be very disappointing for me. But I did not earn my spot on the team, so I have to rely on a pick."

Which means he was relying on Couples, a guy who has trouble making sense. Even without any audio distortion.


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