Tiger Woods, benched. Imagine that. We keep waiting for the greatness to come back, and the Ryder Cup this weekend is the perfect place for glory to be restored, flags waving. It’s just a matter of time, right?
Woods is just so messed up now, playing golf like someone trying to learn how to dance with paper feet cutouts on the ground, stepping too carefully, afraid of missing the spot while counting one-two-three, two-two-three …
The old Woods used to fire for the pin.
But no one benched Michael Jordan. No one benched John Elway. US team captain Davis Love III decided he’ll have Woods sit out Saturday morning’s round, the first time a healthy Woods has sat out in Ryder Cup.
And I wish I could rip Love for that, talk about Woods’ experience in big moments, and his presence. But Love is doing the right thing. Woods just isn’t the singular presence on this team. He doesn’t stand out as a glaring individual anymore. The truth is, Team USA was up 5-3 after the first day, and if it weren’t for Woods, it would be 7-1, or at least 6-2.
And nearly over.
Woods played two rounds Friday with Steve Stricker, losing both and ricocheting one shot off some fan’s head, down the fairway and back out into play.
“I think Tiger needs a rest,’’ said Love, who also will have Stricker sit out the morning round. “They told me they would do whatever I asked them to do, and I can guarantee you neither of them are very happy about it.’’
It was a terrible day, mostly, for Woods on Friday, but a great day for the US team. You wouldn’t think those two things could happen at the same time. Young Keegan Bradley was the US star. Phil Mickelson, too.
There is just such a difference between a Woods round today and one from years ago. I covered Woods in 1999, when he won the PGA Championship on this course.
The most alarming difference is in the children. Back then, whenever you went to a tournament in which Woods played, small kids were constantly squealing, “Tiiii-ger …’’ and pointing. They sat on their dad’s shoulders, did everything they could for one glimpse.
There was no squealing Friday. Maybe it had to do with it being a school day, or with the economy making it difficult for families to buy expensive tickets for their kids. There are possible explanations.
But in the old days, the kids would have insisted. And now, the silence was just so noticeable. In fact, during Woods’ final few holes, Bradley followed, and people were yelling for him. He waved back, shyly.
At that PGA Championship here in 1999, Sergio Garcia was charging, even risking his wrist while hitting a shot from a thick root. He stared Woods down once. Woods had a big putt on the 17th hole that day. It was a defining moment for him, as he had won just one major in his career.
You already know that Woods made that putt and won the tournament. Of course he did. He could not be intimidated by anything.
On Friday at the Ryder Cup, Woods started making shots in the final nine holes, finally relaxing. He made birdies on the 16th and 17th holes. On 18, he was faced with a putt that would have tied the match.
Recently, Greg Norman said that Woods is now intimidated by Rory McIlroy, the world’s best golfer.
He’s wrong about that. Woods was nowhere near McIlroy on Friday, and never was competing against him, but still looked tentative for most of the day.
If he’s afraid of anything, it seems that he’s afraid of making The Big Mistake, whatever that would be on a golf course. He has made those mistakes in his personal life, and lost control.
When Woods was at his best in the old days, he was unbeatable. When he was off, he won with Plan B. Now, he can be great, but he can also be awful.
He used to scare everyone to death before the round even started. On Friday afternoon, Nicolas Colsaerts, a rookie from Belgium, made 10 birdies and an eagle while facing Woods.
“I didn’t play very good this morning at all,’’ Woods said. “I was hitting it awful and not doing anything well. But I hit it good this afternoon. I drove it great and was in position. We ran into a guy who just made absolutely everything.’’
True. So in some ways, it might be unfair to be critical of Woods for losing to a guy who was playing out of his mind. The question is why Colsaerts felt comfortable enough to do that. We’ve seen so many young guys over the years facing Woods in pressure moments. They almost always folded.
In the end, this was a joyful day for the US team, though the Americans were so much better than the Europeans that they should probably have a bigger, safer lead.
They looked like a team, though, that could win without Woods.
Colin Montgomerie, still as annoying as ever, wrote a column in the London Telegraph about what it was like playing Ryder Cup back in his day: “We knew that if we went out and took down Tiger, it would be like cutting the head off a snake. It was only one point on the board, but it was worth so much more. America’s momentum was lost — totally and irretrievably.’’
That might be the good thing that came from Friday’s play. The US team was fine while Woods hit tee shots into the trees.
After he sits out Saturday morning, Woods will be back in the afternoon, and then again on Sunday. This benching isn’t permanent.