It will take some time for Tiger Woods to adjust to being at a Ryder Cup and yet unable to impact proceedings with a golf club in his grip. That much was evident on Tuesday when the American lined up in the United States’ team photograph with captain Davis Love III and his 12 players. Waved away by the photographer, Woods simply moved across to the other side of the group. Having finally been told to step aside completely, he, as well as those who will swing their clubs at Hazeltine National in Minnesota, could afford a chuckle.
Woods’ instinct to be among the team was certainly understandable. The 40-year-old has appeared in seven Ryder Cups, and only four Americans have played more than his 33 matches the competition. This time, though, he will have merely a watching brief.
Woods has been out of action for more than a year after back surgery. And, although he is set for a return to competitive golf next month, this week he will have to make do with being one of Love’s five vice-captains as the U.S. attempts to reverse Europe’s recent dominance of the biennial event.
Still, he remains a huge talking point ahead of the first ball being struck on Friday. And the big question is whether the 14-time major winner can have a more positive impact as a coach than he has managed as a player over his Ryder Cup career.
Woods has won just 14 1/2 points from his 33 matches, a mediocre record for someone who was the best golfer in the world for almost all of his Ryder Cup appearances. More than that, Woods has often appeared to embody the U.S.'s team of individuals that have regularly come up short against Europe’s band of brothers.
Despite consistently having the more acclaimed individuals, the U.S. has won just one of the last seven Ryder Cups. Such has been Europe’s dominance that Love has startlingly conceded that the U.S. needs to win this time around just to keep the event competitive and maintain U.S. fan interest.
But Love, who played on four teams with Woods, insists that Woods has already shown himself to been an ideal team player and could be a major factor in the U.S. regaining the trophy.
“He's been amazingly involved,'' Love said of Woods. "He's been very thoughtful in the way that he's handled 'the Tiger Woods factor' of being an influence, but also being a distraction.
"Just his presence is going to buoy our team. If he is just standing there and says, 'Hey, we just made a birdie, go get 'em,' that's going to be unbelievable.’’
For Woods, there is not just the chance to claim Ryder Cup redemption this week, but also to overcome some particularly painful memories at Hazeltine National. It was at this same course that Woods suffered defeat by a single shot to Rich Beem in the 2002 PGA Championship and then blew a 54-shot lead in a major for the first time in the 2009 PGA Championship as Y.E. Yang took home the title.