Fading Stars


Ryder Cup

NEWPORT, Wales – It's too late to bench them now.

American captain Corey Pavin had no choice going into Monday’s singles at the Ryder Cup.

He had to put Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the lineup.

The only question to ponder: Where should he hide them?

Yeah, that’s ridiculously over the top, but a European reporter actually asked Pavin where he was going to hide Mickelson moments before the singles lineup was released. It’s no stretch to imagine European golf fans having some fun over a lager or two tonight at the expense of the United States’ best players.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is 2-1 this week, but thanks to a lot of help from Steve Stricker. (Getty Images)
Actually, Woods and Mickelson are the planet’s best players at Nos. 1 and 2 in the world rankings, but those are lame-duck designations now.

That’s not over the top. That’s almost a certainty.

Mickelson will lose his No. 2 spot in Monday’s newest world rankings. Lee Westwood is guaranteed to move up with Mickelson falling to No. 3. Woods won’t be far behind. European Tour officials project that Westwood need only finish top-20 in next week’s Alfred Dunhill Links and again at the following week’s Portugal Masters to take the No. 1 ranking.

The lousy Ryder Cup Sunday Woods and Mickelson endured was confirmation of what all the signs have pointed to this summer. Woods and Mickelson are fading together. That’s not to say they won’t fight their way back into winning form. That’s not to say they won’t win more majors and big events, but there’s enough wrong with their games, their bodies or their spirits to wonder if they’ll ever be at the top of the world rankings together again.

Woods, 34, is putting his life back together, searching for old confidence and overhauling his swing for the third time in his career. Mickelson is still dealing with his wife’s health issues and his own recent diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis. He turned 40 this year.

Of course, this Ryder Cup isn’t over.

Woods and Mickelson have to be highly motivated to make statements Monday. That’s part of the fun in the challenge the Americans face in trying to come back from a formidable 9½-6 ½ deficit.

Notably, as much as the Americans need to mount an early charge to build momentum, Woods and Mickelson were not front loaded in the lineup to get the team off to a fast start. Woods will go off in the eighth slot against Francesco Molinari, Mickelson in the 10th slot against Peter Hanson.

What final statement will Woods and Mickelson make? Will they be instrumental in another remarkable American rally like they were in 1999 at Brookline when they both won their singles matches in helping the United States mount the largest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history? Or will they be instrumental in an American swoon as they were Sunday at Celtic Manor?

Woods got throttled in his foursomes match Sunday.

He endured the worst pummeling of his Ryder Cup career in the 6-and-5 rout that Westwood and Luke Donald put on Steve Stricker and him.

It was the worst thrashing any American Ryder Cup duo has experienced in 15 years. Yeah, Woods won two matches with Stricker, but if you watched, you saw how Woods struggled. When the duo birdied four of the final seven holes to win their opening fourballs match, Stricker made every birdie.

Mickelson’s misery Sunday was extended late into his fourballs match with Rickie Fowler, but he left the grounds more bruised than Woods. His defeat was one for the record books. He has now lost more Ryder Cup matches than any American who’s ever played in them. He’s 10-17-2 in Ryder Cups, but here’s the staggering stat. He’s won just two of his last 17 Ryder Cup matches.

Both Woods and Mickelson sound like they’ll come out scrapping Monday.

“I think tomorrow’s singles are going to come down to one of the last few matches,” Mickelson said. “I think we are going to make up some ground early. We are going to try to close the gap and see if we can make a run at this.”

Woods harkened back to Brookline’s comeback.

“We have done it before, so there’s no reason we can’t do it again,” he said.

When that reporter asked Pavin where he was going to hide Mickelson in the singles lineup, Pavin couldn’t have liked it.

“There is nobody to hide,” Pavin said. “But thank you for asking. I appreciate it.”

Pavin did defend Mickelson’s record.

“He's played in the most Ryder Cups in history for us,” Pavin said. “This is his eighth. So he's played a lot of matches.

“I think he's playing hard, he's playing the best he can and he's been in good positions. You know, he's had a few 6-footers that were very key putts, and if he makes those, it's a different result. That's the way match play is, just a little of this or that. I've seen Phil make some pretty important putts in his career. He's won 38 times and four major championships. He's a pretty good player.”

Actually, Mickelson hasn’t played in more Ryder Cup matches than any American, but he’s getting there. Monday will be his 30th Ryder Cup match. Billy Casper played in 37.

Pavin didn’t have to defend Woods. He made him one of his four captain’s picks.

Woods and Mickelson still have chances to change their own momentum and help the Americans win. That’s something they haven’t been very good at either. The Ryder Cup teams they’ve played on together are 1-4.