They spilled out on to the fairways in their thousands at East Lake in Atlanta to acclaim Tiger Woods becoming a winner again after a five-year drought. Millions around the world were also glued to their TV sets as the 42-year-old turned back the clock by producing a ruthless display to triumph in the Tour Championship. The NBC ratings were up 206 per cent on the same event last year. Tiger’s back all right and now he has turned his sights to an eighth Ryder Cup appearance.
He boasts only one team triumph from his previous forays in golf’s biggest team event – two if you count when he was a vice captain at Hazeltine two years ago. A bit like Ian Poulter in the opposite corner at Le Golf National, Woods is at his happiest when he actually has the gloves on and he is a man on mission this week, for sure.
“Looking back on my entire Ryder Cup career, that’s not something that I have really enjoyed and I’ve really liked seeing,” he admitted after getting his first look at the course staging only the second of these transatlantic tussles in continental Europe. “I’ve played a lot of the matches. Of those seven previous Ryder Cups, I’ve sat out one session (at Medinah in 2012). Otherwise, I’ve played every single match.
“We haven’t done well. You know, the year that we won in 2008 (at Valhalla), I had reconstruction knee surgery after the US Open and I didn’t play. And I was a vice captain in 2016, but it’s different being a player. It was neat to be part of the team, to be a part of helping the guys in any way I possibly could to make them feel comfortable, to get them into the right circumstances to allow them to play their best golf.
“As a player, it’s different because you focus on your playing partner and earning your point. As a vice captain, there’s so many moving parts that you’re in charge of, and so that was very different in 2016, but my overall Ryder Cup record, not having won as a player since 1999 (at Brookline) is something that hopefully we can change. Also, we haven’t won as a US squad here in 25 years on foreign soil, so hopefully that will change this week, as well.”
The Americans head into this match as the holders after winning 17-11 in Minnesota two years ago. On paper, they boast one of the strongest teams in the event’s history, with all 12 players sitting inside the top 25 in the world rankings. According to Woods, that will count for nothing if they don’t win crucial holes and one in particular.
“I remember being a part of some of the Presidents Cup teams that Jack (Nicklaus) captained and he says it’s plain and simple: Who wins the 18th hole? Those were the matches that swing,” observed Woods. “If you’re one up, you lose the last hole, go to even, or you win the last hole and you get a point; these little half-points to point swings are enormous over the course of the entire cup.
“The teams that we’ve been a part of in the Presidents Cup wins, at least that I’ve been a part of, we’ve handled the 18th hole well. In the Ryder Cup, we haven’t. The blowouts that we either have received in the Ryder Cup, we didn’t play the 18th hole well; and in the blowouts we’ve had in the Presidents Cup where we’ve blown the internationals out is because we won the 18th hole. The matches are very tight, and usually who plays the last hole well determines the cup.”
As for when he returns to the individual front, Woods has warned the likes of Rory McIlroy, pictured, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka to be careful for what they wish for after his sensational return to winning ways.
During his troubles and toils over the past few years, first due to personal problems and, latterly, his back surgeries, the game’s new generation of major winners all talked bullishly about how they hoped Woods would be back to his best so that they could get the chance to lock horns with him on the sport’s biggest stages. Well, they now know how difficult the 14-time major winner is to beat when he is on his game, having held off players such as McIlroy, Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose to claim his first victory since 2013 in the PGA Tour’s season-ending event on Sunday.
“The younger guys – JT (Thomas), Bryson (DeChambeau), Brooksy (Koepka) – were on their way in when I was on my way out,” said Woods as he prepared for this week’s 42nd Ryder Cup in France. “You know, they had never really played against me when I was playing well. It’s been, what, five years since I’ve won a golf tournament.
“I think that when my game is there, I feel like I’ve always been a tough person to beat. They have jokingly been saying that, ‘we want to go against you’. All right. Here you go. And we had a run at it, and it was a blast because I had to beat Rory head up in the final group. Rosey was tied with Rory.
“Obviously I had a three-shot cush, which is awfully nice, but still, I had not done it in five years.
“These guys had both ascended to No 1 players in the world, they have won major championships, they have won golf tournaments all around the world, and I have not really played a whole lot of golf the last few years.”