Tiger has fallen in love with the Ryder Cup and could be trump card

Can Europe resist Tiger’s roar? Woods has fallen in love with the Ryder Cup and could be America’s trump card

  • Tiger Woods has made remarkable progress in the last year on his comeback
  • Sir Nick Faldo admitted he didn’t expect Woods to play at the top level again
  • Woods’ Ryder Cup record stands at 13 wins and 17 losses in seven appearances

When Tiger Woods tees off in the fourballs on Friday morning at the 42nd Ryder Cup alongside either Bryson DeChambeau or Justin Thomas, it will be exactly a year to the day since he sat on a golf cart at the Presidents Cup — and could barely move.

‘It’s an image that has really stuck in my mind,’ says Sir Nick Faldo. ‘I remember watching him and thinking, end all the speculation now, we were never going to see him again as a player. The poor guy was really struggling.’

Woods, an assistant captain for an American team taking on the Rest of the World, confirmed as much when he spoke that week for the first time since having fusion surgery on his back the previous April.

Tiger Woods has fallen in love with the Ryder Cup at long last and that could prove crucial


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‘I have envisioned not playing again,’ he admitted to reporters. ‘The simple truth is that I don’t know what the future holds.’

Not in his wildest dreams that bleak September day, therefore, could he have imagined what the future would hold exactly 12 months later. Another assistant captain’s stint while moving gingerly maybe; beyond the realms of fanciful was a tee-time at Le Golf National as one of the top three Americans on current form.

Tommy Fleetwood said it all in six words on Twitter on Friday. He’s played a lot with Woods through the FedEx Cup play-offs and was by his side at East Lake on Friday when he opened with an effortless 65 in the Tour Championship. 

In that lovely understated Scouse way of his, Fleetwood wrote: ‘Tiger Woods is good at golf.’

Oddly enough, he’s never been good at the Ryder Cup. Not even when he was really good everywhere else. A record of 13 wins and 17 losses in seven previous appearances was hardly what was expected of a man winning 14 majors.

With 14, Woods has more majors than all of Team Europe, and USA leads the major count 31-8

This time, however, it should be different. This time the American team should benefit from the kinder, gentler Woods we have seen during his astounding comeback this year.

Why did it not work in the past? Davis Love, who played with Tiger on four occasions and captained him in 2012, has an interesting theory: ‘Never mind the opposition, I think he was so good and his aura so powerful that even his own team-mates were intimidated.’ 

Illustrating the point is the fact that all but one of his 17 losses came in fourballs or foursomes. Playing on his own in singles, the only time he was beaten was against Costantino Rocca when making his debut in 1997.

Things are different now. Woods’s time as assistant captain at Hazeltine in 2016 and at the Presidents Cup helped remove the intimidation factor felt by his team-mates. These days, he lives down the road from Thomas and plays practice rounds practically every week with DeChambeau.

There’s also Tiger’s own feelings about the Ryder Cup, which have evolved from outright apathy when he began to undiluted enthusiasm. 

While Team USA have a strong side, Europe captain Thomas Bjorn is confident of success

Asked in 2002 whether he’d rather win a $1million first prize or the Ryder Cup the following week, Tiger responded: ‘There are a million reasons why I’d rather win the tournament.’ There was still not much love at the K Club four years later. 

‘Anyone know Jack Nicklaus’s Ryder Cup record?’ his then coach Hank Haney asked contemptuously, spouting the Tiger view at the time that it’s majors that really count — and everyone knows how many the Golden Bear won.

In recent years, however, the team element has grown on Tiger. He clearly enjoys passing on his wisdom to the younger crowd. Now, a win on European soil stands as the biggest thing he has yet to achieve.

‘We’re all conscious it’s been 25 years since we won an away match, so it would be very special to achieve it in Paris,’ he said.

The Woods revival adds another element to a formidable American side, which might be the best since the strongest team of all turned up at Walton Heath in 1981. 

When one of your three rookies (Thomas) is a former world No 1 and a major champion — the last debutant to be so decorated was Tiger himself — and another (DeChambeau) recently won successive events on the PGA Tour, you’re clearly holding an awesome hand. All told there are no fewer than nine major winners.

With such a stacked and confident opposition, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Europe captain Thomas Bjorn gambled all on experience when selecting his wild cards. Now he needs Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson to dig deep and rediscover the great players within; Paul Casey to play like he did in 2006 and Ian Poulter at Medinah in 2012. 

There’s certainly plenty for Europe to be optimistic about. The emergence of Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton means this will be a much stronger team than the one overwhelmed at Hazeltine last time. There’s also the enormous advantage offered by being on home soil. Only once in the past six Ryder Cups has the away team prevailed, and that needed a miracle/meltdown, depending on your outlook, to unfold in 2012.

Le Golf National is a course that at least two-thirds of the European team know well, from playing it each year at the French Open. With its natural amphitheatres and the largest grandstands seen at a Ryder Cup, the atmosphere promises to be on a whole new level, and it has to help if most of them are on your side.

Who’s going to win? We shouldn’t underestimate the Tiger factor. Wouldn’t that be something if this remarkable return that has stunned the sport ends up tipping the balance? In Paris this week, Woods has the chance to put an entirely different complexion on his poor Ryder Cup record, and it might just prove decisive. 

THE KING ISN’T DEAD… LONG LIVE THE KING

The only way was up for Tiger Woods when the former world No 1 — a spot he’d occupied for over a decade — slumped to 1,199 last December as he recovered from a fourth back operation. But the comeback kid has secured six top-10 finishes in 2018 — two of them coming in majors — to soar back up to No 21.


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