MEDINAH, Ill. – Really, it’s a testament to the depth and quality of team that captain Davis Love III has assembled here at Medinah.
Tiger Woods has yet to contribute a single point for the Americans at the Ryder Cup . . . and the U.S. team still leads, 10-6, heading into Sunday singles. That pop sound you heard is just the champagne being uncorked. Keep it chilled at 38 degrees, please.
Tiger Woods, zero points. That thought once seemed inconceivable. After all, the Americans needed him. They needed his otherworldly talent. They needed his experience. They needed his flair, his spark, his doggedness.
Yet there’s a strange and undeniable feeling floating around the U.S. team room this week. Even though Woods and partner Steve Stricker dropped to 0-3 this week, thereby ensuring that they’re the only Americans who have yet to find the win column, the prevailing belief among the Americans is that they have the best team – certainly the best putters – with or without a supercharged Tiger boost.
Said Matt Kuchar, “It’s hard to believe Tiger hasn’t gotten a point pairing up with Stricker. They make a great team. But we’ve got 12 really good players.”
Said Zach Johnson, “We have a good team. We have got chemistry. We have got camaraderie. We have talent. We want it.”
This could have been a glorious moment for Woods, and perhaps it still might. He’s 36 years old, no longer the most dominant player in the game, and at this stage in his career he’s still wildly competitive but also in the unique position in which he can be a leader, a mentor and a motivator.
This Ryder Cup, in particular, hosted on a course at which he’s won two of his 14 majors, offered Woods a chance to take a large pink eraser to one of the only blemishes – however miniscule – on his sterling resume. In Ryder Cup team play, his record entering these matches was 9-13-1, but hey, for three days he could embrace the experience (as he did last November at the Presidents Cup), and he could embrace the rookies, who have paced the Americans to the comfortable lead after four sessions.
It hasn’t quite panned out that way, of course – the whole leading with his game and his words thing – and after three fruitless sessions, it’s instructive to review Woods’ comments from this past Tuesday. When asked why the Americans have won only two of the past eight Ryder Cups, Woods said, “Well, certainly I am responsible for that because I didn’t earn the points that I was put out there for. … I needed to go get my points for my team, and I didn’t do that.”
Shockingly, he hasn’t done that at Medinah, either.
In Friday morning foursomes, both he and Stricker played miserably and lost to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose. Later that day, the U.S. pair lost again, to rookie Nicolas Colsaerts and Lee Westwood, a defeat that could easily have been dismissed by the fact that Tiger made seven birdies on the day, Stricker made nothing outside 4 feet, and Colsaerts authored one of the best Ryder Cup debuts in history, recording eight birdies and an eagle on his own ball in a 1-up victory.
Still, the once-unbeatable pair of Woods and Stricker was 0-2. Tiger was even benched for Saturday foursomes. Some suggested that he needed to test free agency and find another partner.
Yet there they were, on a sun-drenched fall afternoon, paired together in Match 3 against Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, trying to remain relevant and contribute something – anything – to the American cause.
It didn’t start in promising fashion, just as it hasn’t all week. On the opening nine Saturday, Woods and Stricker rarely walked together down the fairway – partly because Tiger was focused on sorting out his own game, also because he and his partner rarely drove it in the same direction.
Through four holes, the Americans were 3 down. At the turn, they were 4 down.
But on the back nine, Woods and Stricker combined to go 6 under – red-hot play that even included close-range birdie misses on Nos. 11 and 15 – and nearly erased a 4-down deficit.
On the par-4 finishing hole, and after a stirring halve on the par-3 17th in which both Woods and Donald hit their tee shots inside 5 feet, Stricker hit the lip on a 10-foot birdie putt that could have secured a half point.
Four years ago, a Tiger-less U.S. team won convincingly at Valhalla. And now? That 1-up defeat late Saturday afternoon ensured that Woods and Stricker would be winless as they head into Sunday singles, the only Americans who haven’t yet contributed a point – and still the scoreboard to the right side of 18 green read, U.S. 10, Europe 6.
“We fought hard,” Woods said of his fourballs loss. “Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. We gave ourselves two good looks on 18, and didn’t get it done.”
The sting from that defeat apparently would not linger. After their brief media obligations, Woods and Stricker walked together, their arms slung around the others’ shoulders, as teammates and good friends and fierce competitors who just happened to have been on the wrong side of three highly publicized matches.
Their teammates, though, have picked them up, offered them encouragement and put plenty of points on the board, because that’s what teammates do. And now, finally, after all these years, the U.S. has a team. A real team, with 12 players, each with valuable assets.
On Sunday, one of the most exhilarating days on the golf calendar, Woods will face Francesco Molinari in the anchor match.
Will the 12th match even matter? Probably not. After all, the Americans need only 4 1/2 points to win back the cup, and they could clinch long before Woods’ match reaches its conclusion.
But strangely, incredibly, that would be appropriate.
This week at Medinah, the U.S. team hasn’t needed him.