BUTCH Harmon believes the American team trying to record a first Ryder Cup win on European soil in more than 20 years is stronger without Tiger Woods.
Having been on just one triumphant team in seven appearances, the 14-times major champion hasn’t exactly been a lucky charm for the Americans in the transatlantic tussle.
Based on that alone, it was felt by some that Tom Watson’s team would have more of a chance in their bid to come out on top at Gleneagles, especially when the last US success – at Valhalla in 2008 – was achieved without an injured Woods.
However, it was Tiger’s physical state since undergoing back surgery earlier in the year rather than underperforming for his country in the past that makes Harmon, his long-time coach, believe the dozen on duty for the Americans aren’t necessarily weakened without the former world No.1.
“They’re stronger without Tiger the way he’s playing because he hasn’t played well,” he said, having watched Woods struggle after returning to action following the lay-off that forced him to miss the first two majors of the season, then rule himself out of consideration for one of Watson’s wildcards as he shut down his season until December.
“Obviously physically he couldn’t play anyway,” added Harmon. “But, yeah, I don’t think they lose anything by not having him because, at this point in time, he’s not the Tiger Woods that we remember.”
In addition to Woods, the Americans are also without Jason Dufner, who was inside the automatic qualifying positions heading into the US PGA Championship before pulling out of that with a neck injury, and Dustin Johnson because of his enforced break due to personal issues.
Despite the absence of three notable players, Harmon reckons it would be foolish for Europe, with world No.1 Rory McIlroy spearheading them, to be lulled into complacency, not that there is any chance of that happening on Paul McGinley’s watch.
“I wouldn’t say it’s one of the weakest; I think it is one of the most inexperienced,” said Harmon of an American line-up that includes three rookies – Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker. “All of the players on the team are good players, all the players are very capable. You’ve got Phil Mickelson who has played in nine (Ryder Cups) and Jim Furyk, who has played in eight. After that you’ve got Zach Johnson, who has only played in three, then a lot of them are first-timers. Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson – they’ve all played in one apiece.
“I think it’s a very inexperienced team, but, having said that, I think it’s good for the US side because all these guys that haven’t played in a lot of Ryder Cups quite frankly aren’t used to getting their brains beat out by the European team, like a lot of our veterans. And I think it brings a lot of energy to our team.”
In the case of Fowler and Walker, Harmon should know as he coaches them, Mickelson, too. “Knowing all the guys on the team so well as I do, they’re all very up for it,” he warned.
Harmon believes that this US side could have the same team spirit that has been evident in Europe’s recent domination of the event, having won seven of the last nine encounters.
“On the European Tour, you see the guys all having dinner together at night, you see them having a drink in the bar, and you see them all travelling together,” he said.
“You go to the US Tour you see the guys just eating by themselves, with their families. They travel by themselves and most of them in their own private jets. So they don’t spend a lot of time together other than at the golf course.”
Harman added: “I think in the past that has been a problem with the US team. I think all the young influence that they have this year you might see a US team this time that might be the most unified team we’ve had in who knows when.
“It’s about guys being there as a team, and I think that’s going to be very important, and I think you’re going to see that when you watch the American team this week.”
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