TIGER Woods may be missed – certainly by the American audience – at next week’s Masters but will the same necessarily be the case if the world No 1 is still sidelined following his back surgery for the Ryder Cup in September?
It’s a question that merits examination, even though it goes without saying that the event’s first staging in the home of golf in more than 40 years deserves to have a player of Woods’ stature involved.
What harm, if any, would there be to the match at Gleneagles if Woods takes longer than he expects to recover from Monday’s surgery in Utah on a pinched nerve in his back?
For starters, it would have no effect whatsoever on ticket sales as the three match days are completely sold out. Whether Woods is there or not, around 45,000 fans will descend on the Perthshire resort each day.
The absence of one player – even if it is someone who has won 14 majors and is the greatest golfer of his generation by a country mile – in the Ryder Cup bears no relation to the same scenario occurring in a major.
Take this year’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, for example. When it returned there in 2006 for a first visit in 39 years, the game’s oldest major attracted a record crowd in England of 230,000. Of that, a large slice would be non-golfers who were only there really to see Woods, who thrilled them in the bargain by retaining the title.
On the back of an attendance drop of 20,000 in the last two Muirfield Opens, the R&A will be praying Woods is indeed back competing again in the summer.
Back to the Ryder Cup, though, and the most interesting question of all as far as Woods is concerned is “would the Americans have a better chance of winning if he wasn’t on Tom Watson’s team?”
The answer has got to be “yes” if the record books are anything to go by. In seven appearances in the biennial event, Woods has been on the winning side just once – at Brookline in 1999.
Moreover, the only American victory in the past six encounters – at Valhalla in 2008 – was gained without Woods, who was recovering from knee surgery at the time.
The brilliance he’s shown individually over the years has rarely been seen in a team environment, where a succession of American captains have tried – and failed – to come up with a partnership that really got the best from Woods.
Could Tom Watson succeed where others have failed? It would be fascinating to find out and European captain Paul McGinley, for one, is hoping that Woods is in the opposition ranks at Gleneagles. “Tiger’s good for golf, so the sooner he gets back playing, the better,” said the Irishman. “Of course I’d like him to play at Gleneagles, and it will be a better Ryder Cup with him there. Tiger’s one of the world’s greatest players and the Ryder Cup is golf’s greatest event.”
If Woods is fit, what could well be a bonus for McGinley, though, is he’s looking as though he’ll need one of Watson’s wild cards. At present, Woods is lying 44th – not where Watson would want him to be – in the US team’s points table and he’ll have even more ground to make up on those above him when he returns, whenever that may be.
He’s not the be all and end all in a Ryder Cup, though.