It's the calm before the Medinah storm

Wed, Sep 26, 2012, 01:00

GOLF/RYDER CUP MATCHES:AN APOLOGY, or something akin to one, for past failings on the golf course isn’t something you hear from Tiger Woods’s mouth too often. Make it never – until now.

“I am responsible for that, because I didn’t earn the points I was put out there [to win],” said Woods at Medinah yesterday, acknowledging his underachieving part in a dismal Ryder Cup record that has seen him finish on a winning team only once in six appearances in the biennial match.

For Woods, the dominant theme in his Ryder Cup outings – dating back to Valderrama in 1997 – has been to finish on the wrong side of the final result. Six matches, five losses, one win. The exception came with the unlikely comeback win at Brookline in 1999. “That’s being part of 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,” said Woods, one-time long-time world number one but nowadays usurped by Rory McIlroy.

Making his seventh Ryder Cup appearance here at Medinah this week, Woods – who has a 48 per cent win record in his own matches in the 15 years since his debut in Spain – yesterday sought to get into team mode and, at the same time, to deflect some of the pressure on to McIlroy. On being the player targeted by the other team, Woods observed: “It’s part of being consistent. It’s part of being ranked number one. It’s part of winning Major championships. You’re always going to want to try and take out their best player. That’s part of a fun challenge. I certainly relished it over the years and I’m sure he’s [McIlroy] going to relish it this week.”

While McIlroy rather than Woods is the player with, as Graeme McDowell put it, “the crosshairs” on his back this week, McDowell yesterday also became an unlikely defender of Woods’s Ryder Cup record.

“I think it’s very difficult to be critical of Tiger and a guy of his calibre,” McDowell said. “I liken it to the Premiership, the biggest teams, the Manchester Uniteds, the Liverpools, the Chelseas, the Arsenals.

“Any lesser team that comes to play [these teams], they have a tendency to raise their games. It’s a huge game for an underdog to play a Tiger Woods. And they get up for it. They’re not expected to win.

“When expectation levels drop, [the] game tends to improve. A guy who plays Tiger Woods, or a player of that calibre, he doesn’t expect to win and so he lets it all go and plays out of his skin and gets the upset . . . guys raise their game for this thing.”

For this one, Woods – who missed the US win over Europe at Valhalla in 2008 due to injury – is convinced the home crowd will be a factor. With a huge grin creasing his face, he remarked of the likely atmosphere at Medinah: “It will certainly be partisan, no doubt about it. It will be loud. It will be raucous and it will be fun.

“It’s the same as when we go to Europe. They get into it for their team and our fans are going to get into it for our team. It will obviously be more in our favour but, hey, it’s part of the deal. You go out there and you play, you execute [shots] and try and win points for your team. Hopefully, we can get the Cup.”

Not surprisingly, US captain Davis Love III opted for comfort zones in selecting his practice groupings: Woods went out with Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, who have become familiar partners in past Ryder Cups and President Cups, and FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker. The other American groupings featured Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson; and Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

European captain José María Olazábal was equally conservative and a tad predictable. Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood were the first group out on to the course, followed by Sergio García, Paul Lawrie, McDowell and McIlroy. Europe’s only rookie, Nicolas Colsaerts, was grouped with Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer and Francesco Molinari.

“You can pretty much predict our first eight players Friday morning,” said McDowell, before casting a slight disclaimer. “Will we be that predictable? Who knows? But I’m looking forward to the three days of practice and how José assembles us all.”

The calm before the storm.

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