A string of poor shots doomed Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in the opening match of the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah.
It is unclear whether Tiger Woods really wanted to become a Navy Seal, but certain is that he played Army golf Friday morning: left-right, left-right.
Woods and partner Steve Stricker struggled early and often in losing, 2 and 1, to Englishmen Ian Poulter and Justin Rose in the opening foursomes session. Woods hooked the first drive way left by fence near a hospitality tent, and Stricker hit into water at the second.
Apparently they were hungry and thirsty.
But they weren’t primed to win, for neither was sharp, particularly Woods. They hit few good shots and many bad ones. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen Woods play worse, other than in a round when he was injured or recovering from scandal.
“(Woods) didn’t have his best stuff, by any means,” Rose understated afterward.
If Woods doesn’t find a way to square the clubface in afternoon four-ball, captain Davis Love III would be wise to sit him in Saturday morning foursomes. Love said he considered putting Woods-Stricker on the sideline Friday afternoon but figured they would reconnect with their games in the four-ball format.
Asked if he was surprised that Woods was sent back out, Poulter said, “Yeah, but he’s Tiger Woods. ... When Tiger is on, he’s on and very impressive, but when he’s not, he’s not. It’s a brave captain to leave him out.”
Woods might be Woods, but he did a poor impersonation in the morning, when he and Stricker made four bogeys in a seven-hole stretch. Woods dropped his head and slumped his shoulders after numerous swings. Here’s how sloppy he was (warning: prepare for an ugly list):
His hooked drive at the first clipped a tree down far down the fairway and ended up near a fence by a tented village. He flared a drive right at No. 5 that hit a cart path and came to rest behind behind a grandstand. He blocked an approach shot from the fairway into a right bunker at the sixth and missed an 8-foot par putt as his duo went 2-down.
He sent a drive at No. 7 that hit a male spectator in the head. The man went down for several minutes and the ball bounced some 50 yards away, prompting some observers to wonder if the man was a hard-headed Chicagoan or a steelworker.
At the short eighth, Woods flubbed a pitch shot that didn’t reach the green and was fortunate to escape with a halving bogey. Woods hit a poor drive into the left rough in falling 2-down at the 11th, where Stricker tried a low approach but hit a tree. The ball coming down about 100 yards short of the green and they lost the hole when Poulter, probably needing only par, holed a greenside bunker shot for birdie.
At 12, Woods came up short on an approach from the left rough and, after a poor Stricker chip, missed a 10-footer, falling 3-down. They fell to 3-down again at the long 14th, where Woods missed a 3-wood approach from the fairway to right of the green and failed to convert a 10-foot par putt. He hit a low 3-wood on the drivable 15 that was heading 50 yards left before it hit a tree and got a fortunate bounce that led to a winning a birdie. Poulter then saved par from 12 feet at the 16th and the Europeans closed out the match with a tap-in par at the next.
“We dug in deep,” Poulter said. “It was never going to be a pretty match at times.”
Woods is now 4-8-1 in foursomes. He and Stricker have lost their last two alternate-shot matches, falling 6-and-5 to Lee Westwood and Luke Donald in the last team session of 2010.
As for Poulter, a brilliant match player, he came in with an 8-3 Ryder record but had been 0-2 against Woods. So there was motivation.
“Tiger has two of my three defeats and I didn’t want him to have another one,” Poulter said.
Woods wanted another himself but turned up ill-equipped.