Tiger Woods may be the greatest golfer of his generation but at the Ryder Cup, he has been Joe Average. On Tuesday, he accepted responsibility for the dismal US showing for the past 15 years.
During a period where Woods reigned supreme over the golf world winning 74 PGA Tour titles, including 14 majors, he has been unable to extend his dominance to the biennial competition that pits the best of US against Europe’s best.
A mediocre 13-14-2 mark from six Ryder Cups does not enhance the brilliant resume of Woods, who has been able to celebrate just one team win from six Ryder Cup appearances. Woods’s struggles have coincided with lean times for the US with Europe hoisting the Cup in six of the last eight events.
“Certainly I am responsible for that because I didn’t earn the points that I was put out there for,” Woods told reporters. “I believe I was out there, what, in five sessions each time and I didn’t go 5-0 on our side. So I certainly am a part of that and that’s part of being a team. I needed to go get my points for my team and I didn’t do that.
“Hopefully, I can do that this week, and hopefully, the other guys can do the same and we can get this thing rolling.”
Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois, US, which will serve as the scene for this week’s 39th US-Europe showdown, represents a great chance for Woods to improve his record.
Medinah has been a happy hunting ground for the 36-year-old American, who picked up two of his 14 majors at the stately tree-lined layout with victories at the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships.
“I’ve always loved coming here,” said Woods, who is also a five-time winner of the PGA Tour event at nearby Cog Hill. “I enjoy playing in Chicago and for some reason, I’ve just had a lot of success here.
“I don’t know what it is but I seem to be very, very comfortable here.”
Rory McIlroy (right) and Tiger Woods at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January.
TOUGH FIGHT AHEAD
US captain Davis Love III has struggled for years to come up with a way of getting a real “home field advantage” over Europe at this week’s Ryder Cup and he hopes a freewheeling, birdie-laden shootout is his team’s best shot at the trophy.
The choice of the battleground for the biennial golfing showdown, Medinah Country Club, alone suggests that the US will have an edge. But American-style courses and their slick greens are no longer a mystery to European visitors, who have been bagging more PGA Tour wins over the years.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia has twice finished runner-up at Medinah, while Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy does not need a windswept links course to find success, the world No. 1 winning four titles on American soil this year, including his second major at the PGA Championship in August.
Love believes he can get an advantage from Medinah by playing to US strengths. “I struggled for two years to come up with a way, how do you get an advantage,” Love told reporters shortly after he arrived at Medinah with his European counterpart Jose Maria Olazabal. “We’re a long-hitting, freewheeling, fun-to-watch team. We have 24 of the best players in the world. They are all pretty good at adapting to conditions.
“One thing I’ve never liked is rough and I’ve been lucky enough to have a little bit of an influence on two golf tournaments, our McGladrey Classic and this Ryder Cup, and neither one of them had a lot of rough.
“I just don’t like rough.”
Love said the Medinah set-up would also play to a pro-American crowd, giving the galleries plenty to get excited about once the competition begins on Friday (and goes on till 30 September) with the opening foursomes.
“I think the fans want to see a little excitement. They want to see birdies,” said Love. “Even holes tied at birdies are more fun than six-footers tying for par.
“We want to let these unbelievable athletes freewheel it a little bit and play. Medinah is such a big, long golf course, and with the weather turning bad on us, I don’t think we wanted a lot of rough.
“It’s still going to be tough. It’s a tough golf course but without the deep rough, saves us the chip outs and the grinding-it-out style of golf.”
LOVE CONQUERS ALL
When Love leads the US on to the first tee, he will be performing a role he always seemed destined to play.
As a player, Love, 48, has represented the US at six Ryder Cups, including wins in 1993 and 1995, and has teed up six more times at The Presidents Cup. He was an assistant captain to Corey Pavin at the 2010 Ryder Cup won by Europe, and so when it was time to choose a successor, Love was the obvious choice to draft a winning strategy that could restore US golfing honour.
Captaining an American Ryder Cup squad always seemed as if it would eventually find its way on to Love’s sparkling resume that features 20 PGA Tour titles, including one major, the 1997 PGA Championship.
The son of a respected PGA Tour teaching professional who contended for the 1964 Masters, and a mother who was a low-handicap golfer, Love comes by his golfing pedigree honestly. Children of teachers do not always become top students but for Love, the lessons learned from his father, who died in a plane crash in 1988, remain relevant well into the third decade of a career that shows no signs of slowing.
Following his dad’s death, Love wrote the highly acclaimed book Every Shot I Take honouring his father’s lessons on life and golf and will try to impart some of that wisdom to his team. “Simple, straightforward, no-pressure ideas are important. Is it better to say a little or better to say a lot? I don’t think we need to get these guys fired up. I don’t think we need to have a go-get-‘em speech every night.”
Love is aware there is only so much a captain can do. He will offer advice, be a cheerleader and fetch towels but in the end it will be up to the players to get the job done.
Love has never hid the fact he would rather be making shots than making matchups but expects to feel the same pressure that comes with taking part in golf’s blockbuster global event where every move and word will be scrutinized. In a sport known for its etiquette, the Ryder Cup is a unique event capable of revealing national passions and turning normally polite and reserved spectators into a mob.
It is also an event that puts intense pressure on players who can normally drain a long putt to win a $1 million (around Rs.5.35 crore) purse but crack when faced with a three-footer that could earn their team a crucial point.
After he was named captain in January 2011, Love flirted with the idea of making the squad as a player. That did not happen but Love made it clear that after his duties at Medinah he does not expect to be put out to the Ryder Cup pasture.
“I’ve made 12 teams in a row and I’ve been frustrated ever since,” said Love. “I want to make another Ryder Cup team and if it’s not this one, I’m going to try just as hard for the next one.” REUTERS
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