By Andrew Both
CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy has backed Tiger Woods to do an excellent job as either a playing or non-playing captain of the United States team that will take on the Internationals at the Presidents Cup in December.
Though Northern Irishman McIlroy will not feature in the event, he knows Woods well enough to make an intelligent observation of the 15-times major champion.
Woods was famously lukewarm about team events early in his career, appearing almost disinterested in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
But his passion has grown as he has entered middle-age, and at 43 he will lead a superstar team at Royal Melbourne from Dec. 12-15 in what no doubt will be a test run for a future captaincy in the Ryder Cup against Europe.
"He's evolved a lot as a person over the years and I think he takes his leadership role in those team competitions a lot more seriously now than he might have before," McIlroy said on Wednesday on the eve of the Zozo Championship.
"He put a lot into the U.S. team at Hazeltine (site of the 2016 Ryder Cup) when he couldn't play but was a vice captain.
"He wouldn't have taken the job as Presidents Cup captain if he wasn't going to give it his undivided attention. So I think he'll be a wonderful captain. If he approaches the captaincy the way he's approached his whole career, he'll be great at that."
Woods will spearhead a team that has completely dominated the Presidents Cup against an International team comprising non-European players and led by South African Ernie Els.
Woods returns to competition at the Zozo Championship following two months on the sidelines after knee surgery, and has yet to decide whether to include himself as a player in Melbourne.
Since the inception of the Presidents Cup in 1994, the U.S. has lost just once in 12 stagings, with one tie.
During the same period, however, the Americans have won only three of 12 Ryder Cups.
Leave it to McIlroy to identify the main reason for such contrasting records.
"They're not playing Europe in the Presidents Cup?" he said, prompting chuckles from the assembled media.
His point made -- that Europe puts out a better team -- he continued with a lengthier explanation, saying that the Americans were perhaps more relaxed at the Presidents Cup than the pressure-packed Ryder Cup.
"I think for most people, when you are relaxed, that's what sort of brings the best out of you in terms of freedom of play and just letting it go.
"That's part of the reason I think why they play so well and they've dominated for so long."
McIlroy was speaking at Narashino Country Club on the eve of the first official-money PGA Tour event in Japan.
He will play the first two rounds with Americans Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele, while Woods will be accompanied by Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and Japan's Satoshi Kodaira.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; editing by Richard Pullin)