LOUISVILLE, Ky.(AP) No one will miss Tiger Woods at the Ryder Cup more than the Europeans.
Yes, the Americans will have to make do without a guy who has won 75 times around the world, 14 majors, and who has been No. 1 in the world ranking for 513 weeks.
But they might be better off without him.
For all his greatness when the trophy is awarded to only one player, Woods has compiled a meager 10-13-2 record in his five Ryder Cup appearances. He went 3-2 at the last Ryder Cup, his first winning record.
Plus, nothing motivates European players more than beating Woods in the Ryder Cup, which they have done 12 times in 20 team matches.
Even so, it’s easy to see why U.S. captain Paul Azinger can’t find a silver lining when asked if any good can come from Woods sitting this one out while he recovers from reconstructive knee surgery.
“I can’t imagine how you can argue a team would be better off without … potentially the greatest player who has ever lived,” Azinger said. “As far as I’m concerned, it really puts Europe in an advantageous place. It puts Europe in a favorite role. There’s just no question about it.”
Europe would have been favored, anyway.
It has captured the Ryder Cup four of the last five times that Woods has played. And if not for the mismanagement of European captain Mark James and the fortune of Justin Leonard’s 45-foot putt at Brookline in 1999, it would have been a clean sweep.
Padraig Harrington pondered this question a few weeks ago and agreed with Azinger that “there is no way you could say their team is not weaker without Tiger Woods.”
But he also slipped in a comparison that is only laughable until closer inspection.
“I’m not saying it’s the same, but Luke Donald would have been on our team if he weren’t injured,” Harrington said.
Donald has won four times in his first seven years on tour. Woods won four times in his first seven months.
Donald, however, has a 5-1-1 record in his two Ryder Cups. For Europe, he is one of 12.
For the Americans, Woods is THE one out of 12.
Woods has a larger-than-life presence wherever he plays, no matter the format. Because of his accomplishments, there is deference paid when he is in the room, an intimidation factor that affects even his own teammates. It should not be surprising that Woods had 10 partners in his first four Ryder Cups before settling in with tough-as-nails Jim Furyk for all four matches two years ago at The K Club.
This U.S. team is no longer Tiger Woods and 11 other Americans.
They are 12 equals.
“Even though everybody likes Tiger and we get along with him, we all feel like we’re more similar to each other,” Stewart Cink said. “No matter what they say … he’s a different kind of dude than the rest of us because of what the Tiger Woods brand is.
“I’m hoping that our team can be a good unit,” he said. “Nothing against Tiger at all. I hope we can make the best of a situation in that the best player who ever played golf is not playing this year.”
Woods can be a distraction, through no fault of his own.
There are special accommodations for Woods. And even though the Ryder Cup is all about team, Woods remains the focus wherever he goes. Six years ago at The Belfry, the British were outraged to find that Woods played his practice round at dawn and was off the course when fans were just arriving. Had that been Cink – or even Phil Mickelson – would anyone have noticed?
“It’s not just the public,” Cink said. “And it’s not Tiger’s fault. The PGA reacts differently to him. When 12 players walk out of a clubhouse, there’s one cart to take one person, and the other 11 have to find their way. That’s the way it is sometimes. That part will be a little different.”
Still, the biggest difference might be Woods as a rallying point.
The Americans feel the challenge of winning without him. The Europeans no longer have such big game to hunt.
“There are times in sports when a team loses its quarterback or running back, and it creates a rallying point,” former U.S. captain Curtis Strange said Tuesday. “It doesn’t last the entire year, because you need that person. But I truly believe these kids might believe that. ‘Let’s prove we can win without him, that we can do this on our own.’
“The other team is so ready and fired up to play Tiger,” he said. “That won’t happen this time.”
At least there’s no chance of a Woods-Mickelson pairing. That didn’t work in 2004 when Hal Sutton sent them out as the first match at Oakland Hills, and Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington won handily.
“Psychologically, it was worth two points to us,” Montgomerie said that day.
Now, it’s one point for one match. A victory by Ben Curtis will count the same as if Woods had won the match.
Whether his absence helps or hurts will never be known.
“The only reason we’re considering that is because he’s not here,” Leonard said. “If Tiger Woods was here, you certainly wouldn’t say we’re better off without him. Any team is not going to be as strong when they don’t have the best player in the world. But the fact is, we don’t. So we’re going to give it our best and maybe rally around the fact that he’s not here.”
Woods said he hoped the Americans could win back the Ryder Cup, and he would be happy to help in any way.
“I doubt I can do much,” Woods said.
Maybe he already has.