Tiger Woods still has plenty to prove in the Ryder Cup
If this is the second coming of, a better Tiger Woods, then it is going to be great for golf
US golfer Tiger Woods and his Ryder Cup team mates arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Photograph: Getty Images
The United States chartered airplane departed late, made up time in the air and arrived almost on time into Paris. Such a sense of timing seemed appropriate, especially since they hardly needed any jet propulsion: after all, the manner of Tiger Woods’s win in the Tour Championship was sufficient energy on its own to ensure a trip of giddy heights for Jim Furyk’s band of golfing invaders.
If this is the second coming of Woods, then it is going to be great for golf. But the fuel it brings to the USA’s team room is a different kettle of fish. For a team which has failed to win any Ryder Cup on European soil in 25 years, dating back to 1993, the timing of Woods’s win – the 80th “W” of his career on the PGA Tour – couldn’t have been more perfect.
“Not that this event needs much more energy or that brought to it, it’s probably the biggest, the grandest event in all of golf, but [Woods’s win] will add that much more excitement. It adds to it,” conceded US captain Furyk.
Where once viewed as akin to a square peg being put into a round hole in past team environments, Woods’s evolution and maturing into a team player has been intriguing.
Those very injuries which threatened his career, and how he coped and overcame those back issues with medical intervention and ground-breaking spinal fusion surgery, have actually made him a better man and, on the latest evidence, perhaps even a better player; and, most likely, a better team player.
Although his personal goals have been reactivated, with Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 Major wins and Sam Snead’s 82 record PGA Tour career wins again in his sights, Woods also has the chance to be a bigger player in the Ryder Cup than history – so far – has recorded. He is someone with little to prove on the golf course . . . except, perhaps, in the Ryder Cup.
“When you look at now, maybe comparing past Ryder Cups to this one, I think what’s so special is Tiger has engrained himself in our team atmosphere and became such a big part of the team in 2016 as a vice captain, and then again in 2017 as an assistant captain at the Presidents Cup. I think it’s special for him now to kind of join these younger players as a team-mate,” said Furyk.
“What’s important to him right now, what’s special for him is to be a part of that team, to be a part of that group . . . he won as an individual, and I know how much that means to him and how important it was, but he’s flipped that page pretty quickly and is really excited to join his team-mates and move forward in that process.”
Of his journey back to health and winning ways, Woods provided an insight in the aftermath of his win at East Lake, where a dreadfully out-of-sorts Rory McIlroy had the misfortune to have the closest view of the great one’s return.
“Probably the low point was not knowing if I’d ever be able to live pain-free again. Am I going to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down without feeling the pain that I was in? I just didn’t want to live that way. This is how the rest of my life is going to be? It’s going to be a tough rest of my life. I was beyond playing. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg. That was a pretty low point for a very long time.”
When Woods describes his situation so starkly, the journey he has undertaken is all the more remarkable. And, having undergone three spinal surgeries in four years, the last a fusion of his lower spine, his climb back to the where he is - moving from 656th in the world at the start of the year to a current position of 13th – has made his comeback one of the most extraordinary ever.
As Justin Rose – who will be in the opposite corner of the ring this week, fighting for Europe’s cause – appreciated: “The comeback is for real, and it’s nice for him to prove that to the world. He’s looked so good this year, and I think that it’s been a matter of time, and I think that we’ve all been waiting for him to win, and we’ve all been wanting him to win.
“And I think it’s great for the sport, great for the game. He truly moves the needle like no one else out [on tour], and he wins in style. He wins with charisma. He’s brilliant to watch.”
And, in terms of adding that extra fuel to the biggest golfing show on earth, Woods’s return to winning ways – his first since the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational – couldn’t have been timed any better for a player who wants to be a team player.