NEWPORT, Wales – Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are closer than ever in the world ranking, but far apart in personalities.
“They couldn’t be any more different,” Hunter Mahan said.
Mahan might be the one player who spends equal time with both of America’s biggest stars. He has been playing practice rounds with Mickelson for several years, and used to call him “32” to represent the number of PGA Tour wins by Mickelson (the number is up to 38). He also plays with Woods, especially now that they use the same swing coach in Sean Foley.
“Just watching them play,” Mahan said. “Tiger is very stoic and doesn’t really talk much. And I know Phil, he talks to Bones (caddie Jim Mackay) on every shot, and they really talk a lot in depth. Phil, the more he talks and chitchats, it calms him down. He likes that.”
Matt Kuchar noticed the same differences in the team room.
“I think Phil is a lot more talkative in general,” Kuchar said. “There’s a guy who’s pretty much going to speak up. And Tiger might be more like me, kind of sit back and wait his turn.”
The one time Mickelson and Woods get together is across the net on the pingpong table.
But at dinner? Practice rounds together? Partners in the Ryder Cup?
“I’ve played with both of them, all the time,” Mahan said. “I like them both. I get different things from both of them when I talk to them, about tips and stuff like that. They’re just two different people, and I wouldn’t expect them to be friends, just because of what they are aiming for and what they are trying to accomplish. Their personalities are just 180 degrees.”
KAYMER’S DEBUT: Martin Kaymer is at his second Ryder Cup, his first as a player.
Kaymer, who won the PGA Championship in a playoff at Whistling Straits, was invited to the Ryder Cup two years ago at Valhalla by European captain Nick Faldo, who thought it might help the 25-year-old German down the road.
“The experience of going to Valhalla has helped me already this week,” Kaymer said. “When I came here, I knew what to expect. I knew there would be a lot of media. A lot of things are planned. Everything is very organized. There is not a lot of time for yourself that you can sit down and relax and think about a few things.
“So those things, just the organization of things, have helped me already.”
As for the golf? Stay tuned.
“It’s my first Ryder Cup, so I don’t know how it feels on Friday morning,” Kaymer said. “But the things that happened on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they helped me already.”
LEARNING EXPERIENCE: Though he’s just 21 and a Ryder Cup rookie, Rickie Fowler already has some experiences to draw on when the matches begin in earnest.
For one thing, he’s already won a cup on European soil – as a member of the winning U.S. team at the Walker Cup three years ago at Royal County Down, when Fowler went 3-1 as the youngest player on the squad. How much that will carry over is anyone’s guess.
“I played well in Ireland, and it was a similar stage,” he said Wednesday. “But this is multiplied by 10, 20 or 30.”
Fowler also got a close look at European captain Colin Montgomerie when the two were drawn together at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Fowler, added to the U.S. roster as a captain’s pick, probably wishes now that he’d been making notes.
“Earlier this year,” he said, “I wasn’t really thinking too much about the Ryder Cup.”
Fowler is the first PGA Tour rookie to compete in the Ryder Cup, and he’s the youngest player since Tiger Woods in 1997 to play for the American team. He’s not the youngest at Celtic Manor – that would be Rory McIlroy, who’s about five months younger.
Even so, his age is a topic.
Someone mentioned to Bubba Watson that the Americans have not won on European soil in 17 years.
“Is Rickie that old?” he replied.
TWO “I’s” IN COLIN MONTGOMERIE, NONE IN TEAM: Colin Montgomerie began his Ryder Cup career at Kiawah Island in 1991, when he earned a half in a memorable – albeit ugly – match against Mark Calcavecchia.
He was paired with Padraig Harrington when they took down the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson experiment at Oakland Hills. He has never lost a singles match in his eight Ryder Cups.
Asked about the highlight of his career, Montgomerie made it clear what the Ryder Cup means to him.
“No personal highlight at all in the Ryder Cup, not one,” he said. “This event – personally – this event has meant nothing to me, and still doesn’t, personally. But as a team, and as a European Tour, it means the world to me.”
Montgomerie never pursued PGA Tour membership, and along with never winning a major, he is known for having never won an official tournament on American soil.
In the Ryder Cup, he has played on five winning teams.
“I had ample opportunity to go to America and join the U.S. tour as a player when I was No. 1 in Europe,” he said. “Never took it. Always supported the European Tour and the European cause, and that’s why I’m here, for Europe – for the European Tour, for the European cause and the European team.
WIDE-OPEN DANCE CARD: Zach Johnson is nothing if not adaptable.
At his first Ryder Cup appearance in 2006, he played his matches with three different partners: Chad Campbell, Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink. Johnson halved his match with Campbell, won his match with Verplank but lost in his pairing with Cink. The Europeans went on to a dominating 18 1/2 -9 1/2 victory.
With Cink the only one of those three on this year’s team, Johnson knows he’ll likely be matched with another partner at Celtic Manor. He doesn’t mind a bit.
“My game is fairly obvious,” Johnson said. “It’s not that flashy. It’s pretty boring. I prefer boring golf. My point is, I think you could be put with just about anybody and I could perform.”
Four years ago, a steady downpour and a barrage of key putts sunk the Americans at the K Club in Ireland. Johnson can’t affect how the Europeans handle the greens at Celtic Manor, but he’ll be ready if the forecast calling for periods of rain the rest of the week turn out to be accurate.
“I hope that’s not the case. But I’m a mudder,” he said. “I don’t mind grinding it out.”
DIVOTS: The Americans wore navy blue rain suits that looked like they belonged to a basketball team – white stripes, with their names stitched on the back. Tiger Woods was the only player whose name was not on the suit. … Bubba Watson says the last time he heard the national anthem played at a golf tournament was a national team for junior college players. “I was in South Africa and I got to carry the flag out to our ceremonies,” he said. “And we won by 32 shots, so we got to listen to the national anthem.” And yes, it made him cry. … This will be the first Ryder Cup that doesn’t have a player from the home country. Rhys Davies is driving Colin Montgomerie in his cart. The last Welshman to play in the Ryder Cup was Phillip Price, who was No. 119 in the world when he beat Phil Mickelson at The Belfry.