Ryder Cup drama is always guaranteed when the golf begins but in the run-up to the biennial dust-up between the best of Europe and the United States the storylines usually carry all the authenticity and tension of Godfather 3.
So it was when Jim Furyk arrived at the podium yesterday to announce three of his four captain’s picks for the contest in Paris and surprised nobody by naming the quirky, self-styled “golf scientist” Bryson DeChambeau, winner of the last two events on the PGA Tour, and a couple of relatively unknown youngsters called Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. The fourth and final pick, held back to give the US skipper a chance to select what the Yanks like to call a “hot hand”, will be announced next week.
Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to know the identity of this final pick look away now. It will be the hugely talented and hugely popular (amongst his peers, unlike DeChambeau) Tony Finau.
— Ryder Cup USA (@RyderCupUSA) September 4, 2018
Today, Europe’s captain Thomas Bjorn will get his shot for at an Oscar nomination in the bogus drama category when he steps up to announce his captain’s picks. Theoretically, the Dane faces a tough choice with at least one of his picks – the currently hopeless Sergio Garcia, who couldn’t find a fairway with a map and a compass, or the currently magnificent Matt Wallace, who won again on Sunday – but as everybody already knows Bjorn will opt for the experience of the Spaniard there is little prospect of any real drama. Unless, of course, mild-mannered Matt Wallace summons up anger of a younger Thomas Bjorn, who reacted to being left out of Ian Woosnam’s 2006 Ryder Cup team by calling the Welshman every name under the sun, and a bit more besides.
“The man is barmy,’’ Bjorn said, sounding more than a bit barmy himself.
Barmy like a fox. Woosnam went on lead his European team to an historically emphatic victory.
Suffice to say, Bjorn’s team has very little chance of doing the same to Furyk’s squad, which has an ominously dominant look about it, an impression reinforced by three picks announced on Tuesday, not least that of Woods, who had been penciled at the start of the year as an assistant captain. At the time, Woods was ranked 656th in the world and had just gone through his fourth back surgery. That he has since played himself onto the team surely ranks as one of the more remarkable turnarounds in recent Ryder Cup history.
Can it only be a couple of years since he was reported telling friends that his career was over?
Is it only 15 months since the Florida police, in one of the crueler features of the American judicial system, released videos of a disorientated and mumbling Woods who had been picked up by the roadside after crashing his car?
“Deep down, I wanted to make the team. I really wanted to play on it,” Woods said Tuesday. “As the year progressed, I’ve kind of gained some traction and was somehow able to get some high finishes. And lo and behold, I’m a part of this team. It’s incredible, it really is, to look back at the start of the year and now to have accomplished a goal like that, to be a part of this team, and now to be a player is just – like I said, it’s beyond special.”
And it could get more special. On the face of it, Woods’ Ryder Cup record isn’t exactly dominant. He’s lost 17 of his 33 matches, won 13 and tied three. His singles record (won 4, one loss and two ties) is good, bordering on great. The problem comes when he has been paired with a teammate either in fourballs or foursomes is atrocious – nine wins, 16 losses, one tie.
The ‘knock’ on Woods, and the most obvious explanation for his record in fourballs and foursomes, was that he was simply a bad teammate – too self-centred and too aloof to care about and support his partner in that way that, say, Seve Ballesteros did for his fellow Europeans. But what if the problem lay not with Tiger but with his teammates, most of whom had suffered at his hands week after week on the PGA Tour and had convinced themselves they were unworthy to be his partner?
Back in the day, Woods carried the aura of greatness and wasn’t afraid to flaunt it, even at a cost to the cause of the team.
These days he still has same aura but it is tinged with the vulnerability that came with his very public fall. He is human – a great golfer, no question, but not without flaws and certainly not a teammate to be scared of. Where once the US players might have shied away from being paired with him, the likes of Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed will be battling each other for the right to impress the great man in a Ryder Cup setting.
As Furyk made clear in announcing his pick, Woods made the team on merit. He has played brilliantly this season, albeit without picking up a PGA Tour victory. He is one of the world’s best golfers again and as such he can be expected to collect his share of points in Paris. But more importantly he can be expected to inspire those around him. There is no calculating exactly how many points that could be worth, only that it will give strength to the American cause.