Tiger threatens Ryder roar
- 6 Sep 06, 01:00 PM
LONDON - Phew. I’m glad the Thomas Bjorn affair’s over. Now we can get back to talking about the golf.
But that brings us to another worrying issue - if you’re a European fan that is. Not that I’m at all biased, you understand.
And that issue is Tiger Woods.
The world number one has won his last five tournaments in a row and added two more majors this year.
“He is playing rather well,” conceded former European Ryder Cup star Sandy Lyle, one of Ian Woosnam’s assistants at the K Club.
But for a 12-time major winner, Woods’ Ryder Cup record is poor.
Woods made his debut in 1997 and has played in every match in every event since then. But his return of seven wins and two halves from 20 matches does not back up his status as the game’s second best player ever (based on the number of major titles won).
Woods, though, has signalled that he is keen to embrace the tournament and take on a more prominent leadership role at the K Club.
Reports emanating from the American camp suggest they are more united as a team than in recent times. Their bonding trip to Ireland can only have helped, though you wonder just exactly how many beers Tiger and Brett Wetterich sank together while back-slapping and trading high-fives in mutual admiration.
Woods' Ryder Cup record has been tarnished mainly by five losses in eight matches in both foursomes and fourballs, suggesting there is a problem, either with him, or the choice of his partners.
But there is no doubt that US captain Tom Lehman will not make the same mistake that skipper Hal Sutton made in 2004 by twice pairing Woods with Phil Mickelson, hardly his best buddy on the world.
“It’s very important to have good pairings and you need an anchorman,” said former Ryder Cup star and BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss.
“That’s what went wrong with Woods and Mickelson. They both went crash, bang, wallop.”
If Lehman can find a partner to suit Woods - Jim Furyk is the word on the street - then Europe beware. But on the other hand, it’s matchplay and, according to the experts, anything can happen.
“Over 72 holes of matchplay you’d be hard pushed to beat Tiger but he’s very vulnerable over 18,” said Lyle. “He’s got everything to lose and not much to gain.
“Players will raise their game because they’re playing an opponent they know is better than them. You can have a freak round and get the better of him on the day.”
Admittedly, many players have come off second best when going head-to-head with Woods in the final round of strokeplay events. Just ask Sergio Garcia at the Open or Luke Donald at the USPGA.
But one-time US Ryder Cup star Jim Gallagher, who pulled off a shock victory over Seve Ballesteros in the singles in 1993, agrees with Lyle on the significance of the format.
“I was twice as motivated to beat Seve as he was to beat me, and that’s the beauty of matchplay,” said Gallagher. “You can beat anybody on any given day. Give Tiger 10 matches and he’ll probably win eight of them, but for that one match a guy gets fired up, Tiger has a cold putter and, boom, they’ve got him.”
All of which is very encouraging (ahem, for European fans). But if Woods goes on to win the World Match Play at Wentworth next week we might have to think again.
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