SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — Tiger Woods’s final act in a stunning comeback season was once again stunning. But this time instead of exceeding expectations, he endured a complete nightmare.
On Sunday afternoon, Woods dropped his singles match to Jon Rahm, the fiery Spanish rookie, 2 and 1, to cap a dreary and winless week at Le Golf National. Four matches, four losses. Woods entered this competition fresh off a victory at the Tour Championship, but it seems good vibes don’t carry French passports.
A brief, grim recap: On Friday and Saturday morning Woods lost while paired with Patrick Reed. On Saturday afternoon he was dusted again, this time with rookie Bryson DeChambeau.
Sunday was one last shot at redemption, and playing in the fourth match of the day, Woods wouldn’t know how critical his match would be to the event’s outcome. (As it turned out, Europe clinched the Cup with Francesco Molinari’s win in Match 9.)
Woods went through his warm-up just before noon, camped at the far end of the range, as he does at most Tour stops. He had a few words with captain Jim Furyk, a few with Webb Simpson, who was stationed next to him, and not much else. Before he was finished Thorbjorn Olesen, the Danish rookie, sauntered over to Woods’s end of range and stationed himself tight to the corner. Bold move from the diminutive Dane, cramping Woods like that. Olesen then went out and thumped Jordan Spieth in his match, so the rookie had quite a day.
Woods’s own match got off to an unfortunate start. At No. 1, he pured a stinger iron right down the middle, but Rahm stuck his approach to 3 feet and canned the putt to go 1 up. On the par-5 3rd, Woods drove into the left rough. It’s dicey to use a fairway wood out of le chou at Le Golf National, but Woods gave it a lash and chased it as it flew. “Aw, sweet!” he said as it plopped in the fairway just short of the green. Woods got up and down. Rahm ran an eagle putt two feet past, and Woods made him knock in the short comebacker. Game on.
The European home crowd was into it. They embraced Woods all week, and while Rahm got the bigger ovations Sunday, the fans warmly cheered Woods.
“With Tiger it’s just so special,” said Hubert Tisserand, a volunteer who drew the assignment to be the group’s standard-bearer. Hubert’s from Lyon, about four hours south, and an accomplished golfer in his own right – two weeks ago he turned pro and will soon start his career on the Challenge Tour. “This is amazing. There are things here you don’t see on TV.”
Hubert was probably referring to the sight of Woods’s golf shots, since he finished the thought as Woods carved a high draw into the green on 5. But there was also a lot going on inside the ropes just out of camera view. The Woods-Rahm pairing traveled with no fewer than two dozen people and an occasional golf cart in its wake. Distinguished guests included Ben Crenshaw, Woods’s girlfriend, Erica Herman; and assistant captains Matt Kuchar, David Duval and Davis Love. Plus there was Rahm’s fiancé, Kelley Cahill, and the rest of the Rahmtourage. It was a scene.
Through eight holes Woods had more punchouts from the deep rough (two) than birdies (one) and he was 2 down. On 9, he drove it up the chute with a 3 wood and sarcastically muttered “Yay, a fairway,” while walking off the box. He was brooding. But from that fairway he ripped another 3 wood 15 feet above the hole. He called LaCava in to read it, then stepped up and canned the eagle putt, punctuating it with his first fist pump in France. On 12, Woods dropped another putt and fired another right hook through the air. All square.
But just as quickly as Woods lit up the electronic scoreboards, the spark flickered out. He lost 13 with a bogey, and on 14 he blew a 3-footer, swatting the ball away in disgust as it trickled past the hole. Two down again. He slumped off the green.
Rahm botched a 3-footer on 16 to leave the door ajar, but Woods missed another fairway on 17. Rahm promptly piped his drive, stuffed his approach and holed the putt. 2 and 1. Au Revoir. About an hour later, Europe clinched the Cup in what would become a 17.5-10.5 victory.
“It’s disappointing because I went 0-4, and that’s four points to the European Team. And I’m one of the contributing factors to why we lost the Cup, and it’s not a lot of fun,” Woods said. “It’s frustrating because we came here, I thought we were all playing pretty well, and I just didn’t perform at the level that I had been playing.”
The numbers are ugly. Woods is now 13-21-3 in his Ryder Cup career and 0-7-1 in the last two he’s played. This time he partnered twice with Reed, the team MVP of the last two Cups, and still got waxed. You could ask a sports psychologist what’s up, or you could simply ask yourself: how well would you play golf while paired with Tiger Freaking Woods? As much as he burns to win this thing, he simply may not be cut out for the team game.
Despite this disaster in France, it’s worth mentioning again how far Woods has come. One year ago he was hitting half-wedges while recovering from back surgery. Seven days ago he won the Tour Championship to end a five-year winless drought. That East Lake win was epic, and it almost certainly took a physical and emotional toll on Woods before he jetted to Paris. At times this week he looked tired and stiff.
This was probably the last we’ll see of him until his made-for-TV match against Phil Mickelson in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving weekend. If you don’t shell out $24.99 to watch that on pay per view, you’ll still catch him in the Bahamas in early December at the Hero World Challenge, where he’s the sponsor. In 2017, that event launched this comeback. What a difference a year makes.
With that, team golf is finished. Woods will go it alone from here.