Woods hoping to bring his winning momentum to USA team
TIger wants to bring things down to earth, not to make it all about him
Tiger Woods of USA at Le Golf National in Paris ahead of the Ryder Cup. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Tiger Woods’s feet have returned to terra firma, a new challenge ahead. He’s not one to keep his head in the clouds. Tuesday’s first venture onto the course at Le Golf National saw him go about his business with a couple of young bucks and another old hand who once upon a time was an adversary.
As they went about their tasks on unfamiliar terrain, dropping balls in the rough, appraising their shot-making, you could feel the good vibes. They were having the craic, this unlikeliest of quartets: Woods and Bryson DeChambeau, the one with the scientific brain; Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed, the loner with the moniker of Captain America.
In a nutshell, this group of four men, prepping and note-taking, epitomised how things have changed in the USA camp. A more united front, a togetherness that has bonded four individuals into a unit. Perhaps appearances can be deceptive, but to those looking on it seemed as if they were having a mighty altogether in this calm before the storm.
Of the transformation from rival to friendship in his relationship with Woods, Mickelson observed: “I think that when we started to really work together to succeed in the Ryder Cup, going back even four years ago [to Gleneagles] and then at Hazeltine [where Woods was vice-captain], we realised that we both had a lot more in common than we thought. I think we have both come to appreciate working together to achieve things.”
On the 16th hole, when Mickelson missed the green and finished over a bunker in greenside rough on a side slope, his colleagues in arms called him out for a five dollar sidebet. Could he get up and down? The old Mickelson flop shot magic couldn’t rescue him. He didn’t, and some hooting and laughing ensued. Money, most likely, won’t ever change hands.
But that was the nature of it, a relaxed fourball out on the course with spectators politely clapping, quite unlike the mania which was part of Woods’s walk down the 18th fairway on Sunday as he lifted the Tour Championship at East Lake, showed his X-factor, his ability to move the needle. He is pure box office. We know that. But here, as part of a team, Woods sought to bring things back down to earth, not to make it all about him.
Woods revealed he has yet to watch any reruns of his latest win, the 80th of his PGA Tour career and perhaps the unlikeliest given his injury travails. He also revealed that his bulging inbox of text messages requires a lot of cleaning up whenever he gets around to it. “I’m still north of 150, so it’s going to take me a little while to answer all that...I haven’t really had time to soak it in. I will post-Ryder Cup. I’ll look back and reflect on it,” said Woods.
For now Woods is hoping to bring that winning momentum from an individual tournament into a team format. Remarkably, given his gloried career, Woods has only once – in seven appearances – savoured a winning feeling in the Ryder Cup. It is at odds with his personal CV. Can he explain it?
“Looking back on my entire Ryder Cup career, that’s not something I have enjoyed. I’ve played a lot of matches. Of those seven previous Ryder Cups, I’ve sat out one session and that was the last at Medinah. Otherwise I’ve played every single match...but my overall Ryder Cup record, not having won as a player since 1999 [at Brookline] is something, hopefully, that will change this week.”
Woods could possibly, even probably, have a new partner-in-arms this time. DeChambeau is his likely sidekick. Both use Bridgestone balls. Both have struck up a friendship, the 42-year-old as a guiding influence on the 24-year-old.
“It would be awesome to play with him,” said DeChambeau. “Is it going to happen? We’re still working on it. We’re still trying to figure out who is going to best fit with each other, not me personally but for everyone that’s going out that day.”
If not Bryson, would it be timely to again throw Woods and Mickelson together? The only other occasion that tie-up happened was with disastrous consequences in the 2004 match at Oakland Hills in Detroit. The two could hardly look at each other at the end of the first session as Pádraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie closed out the fourballs match on the 17th hole.
Their misery was compounded when USA captain Hal Sutton thought it would be a good idea to keep the partnership alive for the afternoon foursomes. Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood made sure of their break-up, two losses in two matches. Even Sutton realised the error of his ways. They haven’t been paired together since. But things have changed in the dynamic.
“I think we would both welcome it,” said Mickelson of any leaning from Jim Furyk towards resurrecting the partnership 14 years on. Stranger things have happened, but it is safe to say that Woods, playing as he is now, and with more of a team mentality, would have a queue of players wanting to go shoulder-to-shoulder with him.