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Forever in Tiger's camp

Read between the lines, and Fred Couples might have offered a hint as to who will join Tiger Woods as his second Presidents Cup wild-card pick.

Jack Nicklaus.

If Couples is going to select the "Best Player Forever," it stands to reason that he also would take the guy whose record Mr. BPF is still trying to break.

Of course, there are plenty willing to argue that Nicklaus hasn't given up the BPF crown yet. And if Presidents Cup spots were based on a "forever" system, both men would have qualified on points anyway — leaving Couples to use a captain's pick on Byron Nelson or some such.

We digress. The point is, Presidents Cup qualifying isn't done on a "forever" system. It's based on performance over the previous two years. And Couples is rolling the dice on a guy with just four top-10 finishes over that stretch, fresh off the injured list and working through a swing change.

If Woods helps the U.S. to victory at Royal Melbourne, Freddie Cool will have worked his magic. If the Americans fall, the selection is an easy target.

"If he goes there and doesn't play well, I would be shocked," Couples said upon springing the news.

Maybe Woods will ease concerns by contending at the Frys.com Open, the Fall Series event he entered earlier this week, in part at Couples' request to add a start. For now, though, it's a leap of faith.

The Frys.com Open comes after Couples has to set his roster, so the post-injury portfolio is limited to a tie for 37th in Akron and a PGA Championship missed cut.

"Is he playing well right now? No," Couples acknowledged. But "he almost won (the Masters) four months ago, so you don't do that by playing poor golf."

Couples could say the same about Bo Van Pelt, who stood tied for the lead with three holes to play at Augusta National. Jason Dufner came even closer at the PGA Championship, dueling Keegan Bradley in a playoff before falling.

Neither is getting much Presidents Cup traction. Nor are other guys whose company Woods is keeping in various 2011 stats.

Robert Garrigus, Chris Kirk and George McNeill have more top-10 finishes. Heath Slocum and James Driscoll have earned about as much money.

Sure, none of those guys has captured 14 majors. But they all have the same number as Woods since the start of 2009: Zero.

Then again, Woods might be no less a dice roll than Couples' other options.

The only guy with an airtight case is Bradley, and the rookie might yet play his way onto the roster.

Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas hold the last two automatic berths, pursued by Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker and Rickie Fowler. None is a must-have.

If nothing else, adding Woods sparks interest in an event held 14 hours away in football season. But if Couples gets the PGA version rather than the BPF, he won't be able to shrug it off.

jshain@tribune.com

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