Who Wants to Be Tigers Partner

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It must have seemed so simple to Tiger Woods that September day in 1997. That morning he teamed with his pal, Mark OMeara, and together they made quick work of their Ryder Cup opponents, Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer, 3 and 2. He was as a perfect 1-0 in team competition.
 
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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