MEDINAH, Ill. – Bench Tiger Woods?
The thought must have crossed U.S. captain Davis Love III’s mind after the opening session of the Ryder Cup Friday if only as a public safety precaution.
The way Woods was spraying tee shots into the gallery, the PGA of America didn’t need a referee with Woods’ match as much as they needed a medic.
Ian Poulter and Justin Rose teamed to defeat Woods and Steve Stricker 2 and 1 at Medinah Country Club in a match nearly as ugly as the bloody knob sprouting out of a fan’s head in the gallery right of the seventh fairway. Woods beaned the young man with his tee shot only to find his ball 40 yards farther down the fairway. Woods might have got a better bounce off the man’s skull than he could have gotten off a cart path. The fan, by the way, appeared OK, eventually getting to his feet with a handkerchief pressed to the top of head after Woods came over to check on him.
Notably, Woods/Stricker won that hole with a birdie.
Bench Tiger Woods? It was reasonable to ask the question after the morning session.
“He’s Tiger Woods,” Poulter said. “He’s the guy they get out there fired up. He didn’t quite fire them up this morning, but you never know. When Tiger is on, he’s on, and he’s very impressive, but when he’s not, he’s not. It’s a brave captain to leave him out.”
Love didn’t leave Woods out. He sent Woods back out in the afternoon fourballs with Stricker again and Woods birdied his opening hole.
In the morning, Woods looked lost with his swing right from the first tee box. He hooked his opening drive in foursomes over the gallery’s heads and up against a fence. It wouldn’t be the last time he put Stricker in an awkward spot in the alternate-shot match.
Woods hit one of seven fairways in his turns to hit tee shots. Well, actually, two of seven if you count one wild pull deep into the tree line that ricocheted hard back into play. Woods consistently belted balls into the trees but got some timely breaks that made this match closer than it probably should have been. At the seventh, his tee shot off that spectator’s noggin led to a birdie with Woods/Stricker winning the hole. It was at the 15th where he pulled a 3-wood left and screaming toward a hospitality tent only to discover his shot caromed off a tree branch and ricocheted toward the green at the short par 4. He and Stricker won that hole, too.
Woods was frustrated with his swing through the round. After that hard pull at the 15th, he stood on the tee box for the longest time rehearsing his swing.
Almost every facet of Woods’ game was off in the morning. He left a lousy greenside bunker shot 30 feet short at the fifth, missed a short 5-foot putt for par at the sixth and chunked a chip short of the eighth green.
Stricker had his own struggles. After Woods’ errant opening tee shot, Stricker pulled his tee shot at the second hole into the water.
As partners, Woods and Stricker are now 6-3 in international team competition, 2-2 in the Ryder Cup, but they’ve also lost their last three matches as partners. They lost their final match at Wales in the '10 Ryder Cup, lost their only match together in the Presidents Cup last year and lost this Friday morning match.
For Poulter, it was a hard-earned victory. He’s now 9-3 in Ryder Cup matches with two of those losses to Woods. Friday’s victory marked his first win when matched against Woods.