Normally, the selection of Tiger Woods to the US Ryder Cup team would go relatively unnoticed: the world number one would have previously been a given. In fact, he typically wouldn’t even be “selected”, as in years past he would have automatically qualified. But this year, as we all know, has been a very different year for Woods.
It took one of Corey Pavin’s captain’s picks to ensure Woods a place on the team heading to Celtic Manor in Wales this October. There was much speculation surrounding Woods’ pick, and rightfully so: his form hasn’t been great and the US won without him in 2008. When Woods was indeed chosen to represent his country, I received messages from my relatives, one saying “we’re all smirking a bit over here” and another, “Tiger’s aura has gone…don’t think he’ll have any of our boys quaking in their boots.” And while it still seems strange to even consider leaving the world number one at home, there is a lot more to the picture when it comes to the Ryder Cup.
First, considering Woods’ recent run of form, or lack thereof, he was always going to be a difficult selection for Pavin. Just a few weeks ago, Woods was quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t want to play if I’m playing like this.” This summer, Woods has failed to discover anything close to consistency, frequently following flawless rounds with performances I typically generate on the course. In April Woods posted a career-worst 79 and in August finished second-to-last in a four day event, 18 over par.
Second, Woods’ Ryder Cup record speaks for itself. Woods has been on the winning side just once in his 5-year Cup career and memorably missed out on the biggest American victory since 1981 in 2008 with an injury. Long has Woods complained about the Cup, claiming the Europeans get too carried away with the event and also grumbling about the lack of pay during the three-day derby.
Finally, Woods doesn’t fit in well with the “team concept” of the Ryder Cup. Despite golf being ranked among the most individual of sports, the Ryder Cup is a different beast. The atmosphere is much louder, more intense, and the players follow each other around providing advice and lending support. During the dominance from the European side of this decade, you can see the Euros relishing this role whereas the Americans almost seemed afraid to speak with each other (with the very notable exception of 2008, again, without Woods). This attitude absolutely comes from the top and Woods has always been a leader of the pack. His self-centered attitude has been a negative influence on his younger teammates and an anchor to the energy we saw emerge in 2008.
With all the odds stacked up against Woods, what inspired Captain Corey to choose the beleaguered Woods for his side? Perhaps he felt the need to draft experience. The Americans are infused with youth while the Europeans are stacked with experience and fruitful Ryder Cup pasts. Maybe he simply couldn’t be the first captain to leave Woods at home. Or does he see the odds stacked so high against his boys, as this is one of the best European sides in recent memory, that he took a gamble in picking Woods, the player most in need of a career revival?
Given all that’s gone on in Woods’ past twelve months, it’s entirely possible that Woods has found rock bottom in his career, and perhaps life. Woods needs a feel-good moment to thrust himself back onto the good side of the American public. If he’s feeling as poorly as he’s playing, a more humble Woods may be present in Wales. Will Woods finally grasp the idea of “team” and allow Celtic Manor to become the turning point in his career or life? Or will be resort to what has won him 14 majors and internalize his problems (which you know will be brought up by the hounding British media) thus creating the awkward environment for the younger American team? That is the gamble Pavin is taking, and with few questions or holes across the pond, it may well be one worth going for.
Would you have taken Tiger to the Ryder Cup? Leave your comments below.