Woods Figures Being Underdog May Help US

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36th Ryder Cup MatchesLONDON -- A winner of five straight tournaments, Tiger Woods is a big favorite in the World Match Play Championship.
 
The Ryder Cup is another story.
 
'This year, we are definitely the underdogs,' Woods said Tuesday as he embarked on a three-week run in England and Ireland.
 
He then interrupted a question to drive home his point.
 
'We are definitely the underdogs,' he said.
 
Woods has history on his side, not to mention 11 teammates. Europe has won four of the last five Ryder Cups, an era of dominance that includes going home with the gold chalice seven of the last 10 times.
 
The world's No. 1 player will get ready by taking on a 16-man field at Wentworth for the HSBC World Match Play Championship, which features 36-hole matches each day in single elimination. His first opponent is former PGA champion Shaun Micheel.
 
After the Ryder Cup at The K Club outside Dublin, Woods returns to the London area for the American Express Championship, his next official PGA Tour event as he tries to match his six-tournament winning streak from late 1999 and early 2000.
 
'These will be three great weeks right in a row, and this week is wonderful preparation for the Ryder Cup next week,' Woods said.
 
Woods' winning streak began with the British Open at Hoylake, and it includes the PGA Championship. He now has 12 majors, but has a losing Ryder Cup record (7-11-2), which he blamed on the fickle nature of 18-hole matches.
 
'I've played some of my best golf in these (Ryder) matches, and I've won and lost points,' he said. 'And I've played some of my worst golf, and won and lost points. When you play 18 holes, anything can happen.'
 
Woods also acknowledged the hoopla surrounding the Ryder Cup has been difficult.
 
'I look forward to competing and playing,' he said 'I always love doing that. But I'm not a really big function guy, so that part's never been fun for me.'
 
The two weeks surrounding the Ryder Cup offer big paydays.
 
The World Match Play Championship offers the richest prize among official events, with about $1.87 million going to the winner. First prize at the American Express Championship -- Woods is the defending champion -- is $1.3 million.
 
Woods has played the World Match Play only once, finishing second to friend Mark O'Meara in 1998.
 
Sitting next to Woods, David Hodgkinson, the chief operating officer of HSBC said Woods' three-week presence would bring a huge cash injection to the British and Irish golf economies, estimated to be about $320 million by an English professor who prepared a report for HSBC.
 
Woods laughed when he heard the figures.
 
'I don't know where they get that number,' Woods said. 'It is flattering to have that impact on this game of golf.'
 
The American Ryder Cup team will be younger this year, with Woods the youngest at 30. He expects to be a leader, sharing the role with Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk. They are the world's three top-ranked players.
 
'I think all three of us are going to take more of a leadership role because ... we're now the vets on the team,' said Woods, who has played in four Ryder Cups.
 
Woods said the Americans must putt better to beat Europe, which defeated the United States 18 1/2 -9 1/2 two years ago at Oakland Hills near Detroit. He said winning the 18th hole was also crucial.
 
At The K Club, No. 18 is a 537-yard par-5, which bends left with water guarding the green, and eight bunkers protecting it on the right. It offers eagle chances -- and big trouble, too.
 
'The Europeans did that at Oakland Hills, they played 18 better than we did and, hence, they won the cup pretty easily,' Woods said. 'Hopefully we can putt a little better as a team and if the match goes to 18 -- hopefully we can get those matches and put the momentum back on our side.'
 
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