TIGER Woods is not counting his chickens about being there, insisting he’s no different to any other player in terms of earning the right to be on Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup team this year.
But, if they can come up with the same “great mix” that secured victory in last year’s Presidents Cup, the world No 1 reckons there’s a good chance that another United States triumph could be on the cards at Glen-eagles in September.
Given that he’s featured on just one winning team – in the 1999 matches at Brookline – despite seven appearances in the biennial event, Woods has rarely looked comfortable in the past when the Ryder Cup has been raised, seeming much more at ease when talking about his individual achievements.
Asked by The Scotsman, however, how he felt about the event being played in the home of golf for the first time since 1973, the 14-times major winner admitted he was relishing that opportunity and went on to speak bullishly about the chances of an American win in Perthshire, on the back of that Presidents Cup success in Ohio last October.
That saw Woods clinch victory over the International side at Muirfield Village, where a home team led by Fred Couples also included Brandt Snedeker, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Steve Stricker, Bill Haas, Hunter Mahan, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson and Jordan Spieth, the latter two having earned captain’s picks.
At present, only Mickelson, Dufner, Johnson and Simpson occupy automatic qualifying positions for Gleneagles, the race for those nine spots currently being led by Jimmy Walker, with Woods, sitting 25th, having work to do in order to spare himself from needing one of Watson’s three wildcards. But he’s keen to be there either way and said: “It will be fun to play in a Ryder Cup in Scotland.”
Showing genuine enthusiasm during a press conference ahead of today’s start of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club, Woods added: “We played at The Belfry for it seems like forever, moved around to Spain, [Ireland] and Wales. But we haven’t been in Scotland in a very long time. So it’s going to be nice to go there and play at Gleneagles and have Tom as our captain.
“I don’t think I’m even on the team right now, points-wise, so I’ve got to get myself there first. I think we’ll see how it shakes out the rest of the year and who’s going to be on the squad, who’s not, how young are we going to be, what kind of mix are we going to have. Last year at the Presidents Cup we had a great mix of older guys, middle-aged guys and some new blood in Jordan [Spieth] being only 20 at the time. We had a great mix there, and we’ll see what this year holds.”
On the back of just two wins in the last nine Ryder Cups and having suffered a sore defeat as Europe equalled the record last-day fightback at Medinah last time out, it is feared American golf fans could be on the verge of losing interest in the event.
That’s why Watson, the last man to lead the US to victory on foreign soil at The Belfry in 1993, is set to become the Ryder Cup’s oldest captain at the age of 65. So, does Woods believe an American victory is important on this occasion?
“It’s always important that we win, for us anyway,” he replied to that one, his tone turning a bit more serious in delivering a message that will surely be music to Watson’s ears as he prepares to take on a European team that will have an Irishman, Paul McGinley, at the helm for the first time.
In what would be a mouth-watering prospect in the last-day singles at Gleneagles, Woods and Rory McIlroy will go head-to-head in the first two rounds in the milestone 25th staging of the Desert Classic, with Stephen Gallacher, the defending champion, completing a tasty three-ball today and tomorrow.
Between them, Woods and McIlroy have racked up three victories and six top-ten finishes in a combined 13 appearances in the event, which delivered McIlroy’s maiden European Tour title in 2009. Twelve months on from when they both missed the cut after being paired together for the first two days in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy is hoping they can be fighting it out on the back nine on Sunday on this occasion.
“It would be great if it happened because the ultimate test is going down the stretch with arguably the best player the game has ever seen,” admitted McIlroy. “But a lot of things have to fall into place for us to play well at the same week and the same venue. Phil [Mickelson] or Tiger have had a big rivalry the past ten or 15 years, but they’ve battled each other down the stretch only a handful of times.”
McIlroy is out to atone for missing out on victory in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago due to a rules infringement while Woods, a two-times winner here, is aiming to bounce back from the horror 79 that saw him fail to make the 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines last weekend.
Asked if he was concerned about how his third round in San Diego panned out, Woods replied: “I practised Monday and I was better on Tuesday than I was on Monday. Then I was better on Wednesday than I was on Tuesday. Hopefully, on Thursday, that trend continues.”