SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The new-and-improved Tiger Woods is approachable, healthy, competitive and above all appreciative. But if the last 48 hours in France have proven anything, it’s that he still doesn’t play well with others.
The best player of his generation, perhaps of all time, added to the most confounding record in golf, losing all three team matches he played this week at Le Golf National to the unstoppable freight train of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, who have become known to the Parisian masses as “Moliwood.”
At this rate, neither Molinari nor Fleetwood should expect an invitation to Woods’ annual money grab in the Bahamas later this fall. But then that would be pointing all the blame in one direction, and this really had only so much to do with either the Englishman or the Italian.
Woods said after his 5-and-4 foursomes loss to Fleetwood and Molinari that he is “just pretty pissed off, the fact that I lost three matches, and didn't feel like I played poorly. That's the frustrating thing about match play. We can play well and nothing can happen. We ran against two guys that were both playing well and when one was out of the hole, especially in best-ball, the other one made birdie and vice versa. They did that a lot to us.”
Tiger's 2018 has been fully transformative, as a broken and aging former star with no shortage of baggage turned in one of the best comeback stories in all of sports. What hasn’t changed, however, is a team record at the Ryder Cup that is just south of awful.
Woods has now lost seven consecutive team matches against Europe, dating back to 2010. His record with a partner after another wasted week is now 9-19-1.
Eight U.S. Ryder Cup captains have tried desperately to find a partner for Woods and they have all largely failed.
At Le Golf National, Furyk went with a hunch and sent Woods out for the week’s two foursomes sessions with Patrick Reed. As experiments go, this was a bust, with the tandem dropping 3-and-1 and 4-and-3 decisions.
The American frontman switched things up on Saturday afternoon, pairing Tiger with the mad scientist, Bryson DeChambeau, to similarly disappointing results.
Asked why Woods has struggled in team play at the Ryder Cup, Furyk answered: “This week, I'd have to say Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. Those guys played incredible golf. The scores that they shot in both formats were very impressive. It's been a while since we've seen Tiger on one of these teams and healthy enough, but this week I would have to say it's due to the play of the folks he played against.”
With his team trailing, 10-6, Furyk, barring an epic comeback, is certain to suffer his share of slings and arrows for some of his decisions this week; but his attempt to find Woods a productive partner shouldn’t be criticized.
In his Ryder Cup career, Woods has plowed through partners as if were speed dating. DeChambeau was Tiger’s 14th partner. Woods has a record above .500 with exactly two of those teammates, Davis Love III (2-1-0) and Chris Riley (1-0-0).
He’s played the most Ryder Cup matches with Steve Stricker (1-4-0) and had a decent week when paired with Furyk in 2006 (2-2-0), but little has worked and none of it has lasted.
Many consider the low-water mark of Woods’ Ryder Cup career the failed experiment with Phil Mickelson at Oakland Hills in 2004. But it’s not as though he and Lefty – who lost his only match thus far – could have done any worse this week.
Dropping the odd point is one thing. Having what should be your anchor regularly drop crucial points is a psychological blow many teams haven’t been able to withstand.
The kneejerk narrative throughout his career has been that Woods is indifferent to the biennial matches, but that’s as unfounded as it is unfair. That notion ignores his 4-1-2 singles record, along with his 18-13-1 team record in the Presidents Cup, and the way he’s embraced a leadership role in recent years.
For two days, Woods has played the part. He’s high-fived partners, pointed defiantly at adversity and sulked following his mounting losses. As a vice captain at recent matches, his status as an effective leader is no longer questioned. The same goes for his motivation.
And it’s not as though Woods chopped his way around Le Golf National. He was the reason his fourball match early Saturday lasted as long as it did, and in the twilight session he pulled his team to within 3 holes with back-to-back birdie putts at Nos. 10 and 11.
But the results speak for themselves.
This week it’s been key and uncharacteristic mistakes that have plagued Tiger, like a pulled tee shot into the water at the ninth hole during his morning match and a wedge to the 13th that also wound up wet. He missed a 5-footer for par at the eighth in his afternoon bout to go 4-down and an 8-footer for birdie at the ninth.
Simply put, this is not the same guy who rolled the field last week at the Tour Championship.
Woods ran up against the toughest European duo and didn’t have much help from Reed, who couldn’t hit a fairway, or DeChambeau, who couldn’t make a putt. Le Golf National’s tight fairways and relatively slow greens also weren't going to be a good fit for Tiger.
Historically, many have figured that his difficulties in Ryder Cup team play were the byproduct of his individual brilliance.
“The guy that got paired with Tiger in the old days had a lot of pressure on them because they were used to Tiger beating their brains out every week in tournaments. And they tried too hard,” Woods’ former swing coach Butch Harmon recently said. “These young kids on the team now, they idolize Tiger Woods. They love playing with Tiger Woods.”
It might be a new generation, but it was certainly an old story for Tiger in France, and it all leads to a familiar question – at what point do you look around the party and realize that you’re the problem, albeit through no obvious fault of your own?
The frustration was evident as another team session ended for Tiger on the 14th green late Saturday, and he hung a heavy arm around DeChambeau’s shoulders. Individually, his world has return to something approaching normal. But as a teammate at the Ryder Cup, Woods is still searching for answers.