Who Wants to Be Tigers Partner
The feeling lasted all of half a day. That afternoon, Woods was doused with cold, harsh reality. He partnered with OMeara again, but this time Monty and Langer whipped them good, winning 5 and 3. And Tiger has had a tough time of it ever since in partners play at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
So, who wants to play with Tiger Woods? You would think everybody would, partnering with the guy who is quite possibly the best player in the game.
The fact is, partnering with Woods may be the most difficult assignment in the game today. For one, you know you are directly in the spotlight if you go out with Tiger. The world EXPECTS you to win. Just dont mess up, people say. But that is an exacting order for the men who have played with Tiger in the Presidents and the Ryder Cup.
Tiger has been the victim of buzzards luck, to be sure. On his own ball, he has shot a 63 and lost in four-balls (better ball). He has shot 64 and lost. He has shot 65 and lost. That, friends, is difficult to do if youre his partner. If one player shoots a 63, a 64 or a 65, his partner has to mess up awfully bad for him to lose. Either that, or the opposing team has to both shoot somewhere in the mid-60s.
For the record, Tigers record in pairs play is 10 wins, 17 losses and one tie. Difficult to believe, but true. He is a very respectable 5-1-1 in singles, where he relies on nobody and nobody relies on him. But put him with a partner, and Tiger is less than overwhelming.
Woods is baffled. I've shot some good scores and have come out with absolute bagels (zeros), he said. I don't know why. And also I've played atrociously, too. I've had both gamuts.
In Presidents Cup play, Tiger has never won a four-ball (better-ball) match. Yes, thats 0-6. Playing alternate shot in the Presidents, he has a 5-1 record. In the Ryder Cup, he has a losing record in both events ' 3-5 in better-ball, 2-5-1 in foursomes.
In four-ball, you can have a guy - you can nickel and dime him and still win a match. In foursomes (alternate shot) you can't do that; you have to have both players clicking at the same time. For some reason, I've had better luck in that format.
Fred Couples typifies the people who have been selected to play with Tiger. And the pressure of being in such a position can be very difficult, he says.
It's extremely tough to be his partner, said Freddie, because you want to do so well.
I did play with him in Australia and the first day we beat Ernie Els and Vijay, like 6 and 5 (actually 5 and 4), and we had a ball. The second day, literally, I don't think he played his best - but he doesn't need to play his best. I really killed him around the greens. I missed a few putts and we ended up losing on the last hole when I think Craig Parry chipped in from 70 feet.
Tiger has played with OMeara and Justin Leonard, with Couples and John Huston. Hes partnered with Steve Pate, Tom Lehman, David Duval, played all four matches with college teammate Notah Begay in the 2000 Presidents Cup.
Hes paired with Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia and Davis Love, four times again with Charles Howell III in the 2003 Presidents Cup, then was paired twice with Phil Mickelson and once with Chris Riley in the Ryder last year. And the results with nearly all has been distressingly familiar. He has a winning record with only Love (2-1) and Riley (1-0).
Love tried to explain the mental tricks teaming with Tiger plays on you.
I think sometimes it's harder when you know that all you have to do is help a little bit, and you'll be OK, he said. Tiger and I were laughing about the Ryder Cup, my first Ryder Cup match with him at The Belfry. All you've got to do is relax and play - and sometimes that's hard to do. sometimes it's easier said than done.
Certainly with Tiger, you can just help a couple of holes, you're going to be OK. But that's what team golf is all about.
And sometimes, says Love, just playing with a new partner is tough. Certainly when all of a sudden you get thrown with Stewart Cink, whom you've never played with, or Tiger you've never played with - I don't think it's really the person, just that new-partner nervousness.
Theres no question that Tiger should be the easiest to play with. But theres also no question he is difficult.
Why is that? Is it because the players really do tense up when theyre paired with him, fearing they just might make the telling mistake that loses the match? Or is it that Tiger doesnt play quite as well in team events as he does in singles? After all, he is the master of going it alone, of cold-blooded birdie-hunting while he and his caddie are alone against the world. Seemingly it would be quite difficult to compete with a partner when you are so trained to make it as a single entity. Hence, the 5-1-1 record in singles.
I, of course, dont have a definitive answer. The tense-partner theory makes a lot of sense to me. But maybe Tiger doesnt play well in doubles. And maybe opponents simply get sky-high when they go against him. After all, they know they arent expected to win. And ' voila! ' they claw and fight and scratch until they have won the point.
Such are the vagaries of being Tiger. In a world where nothing is simple, his record in partners play certainly isn't, either.
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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.
Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.
Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.
Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA.
New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.
Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.
Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.
Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.
Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.
Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions.
Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might
Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.
“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”
Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”
“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)
Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”
Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"
As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.
Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”
McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks
The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.
McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.
“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”
At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.”
And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.
“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.
“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic
No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.
Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.
With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.
“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”
Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.