U.S. needs Tiger to play like an S.O.B.

In once critiquing an up-and-coming young golfer, Tiger Woods concluded in a candid moment that all the player needed was a little "prick juice."

It’s an unfortunate concept but, sadly, a truth, too, that in golf, nice guys aren’t always as successful as their talent suggests.

Adam Scott is a nice guy, as are Freddie Couples and Sean O’Hair. But are they too nice to step on people’s throats Sunday afternoons?

Phil Mickelson ruffles the feathers of his peers, as could Vijay Singh. Jack Nicklaus wasn’t too friendly when a championship was on the line,  and let’s not even talk about Ben Hogan.

And be sure that Tiger Woods earned his stripes in that league, too.

"No matter how friendly you are with him, he wants to slit your throat on the golf course," said O’Hair after Woods beat him last year to win at Bay Hill.

O’Hair was perplexed because he thought that he and Woods were friends. And they are … just not on the back nine on Sunday with a title on the line.

But that part of Woods’ makeup has been conspicuously absent this year.

The reason’s obvious: he’s trying to be nice, trying to win back hearts and minds after being disgraced.

It’s certainly not the major reason his game in 2010 was at its lowest ebb. With his marriage unraveling, it’s doubtful he cared all that much about golf.

But now that he’s picking up the pieces and trying to once more scale the mountain, can he do it without that "prick juice?"

He tried to warn us way back at Augusta that there was a price to pay for trying to be "more respectful of the game and acknowledge the fans."

"I’m actually going to try and obviously not get as hot when I play. But then again, when I’m not as hot, I’m not going to be as exuberant, either. I can’t play one without the other," he said.

And he hasn’t really been either.

All year he’s been lacking emotion, but if there’s one event where that can all change, where Woods can go back to being the cold-hearted assassin he once was and Americans will love him for it, it’s a Ryder Cup played on foreign soil.

The word out of the U.S. team room is that Woods has taken exception to comments Rory McIlroy made after the Bridgestone Invitational last month, where Woods shot a career-worst 18-over par and finished second last.

"I would love to face him (in the Ryder Cup)," the Irish tyro told the BBC. "Unless his game rapidly improves, I think anyone on the European team would fancy their chances against him."

He followed that up in another interview, saying that the aura of Woods had changed and that "instead of being the best player in the world he’s one of the best players in the world now."

McIlroy hinted, too, at a generational change.

"I haven’t had the experiences that Sergio [Garcia] or Ernie [Els] or [Phil] Mickelson had playing against him like that with him beating me down the stretch," he told pgatour.com.

"The same is true for AK (Anthony Kim), [Rickie] Fowler, Dustin [Johnson] as well. I think the guys that are coming out are not as mentally scarred."

Whether it’s because he’s truly annoyed or just because he needs to have someone to play the bad guy, Woods isn’t letting McIlroy slide.

"Me, too," he responded curtly Tuesday when asked about McIlroy wanting to face him in Sunday’s singles matches at Celtic Manor.

The last time he spoke about another player in that tone, it was Stephen Ames, whose criticisms of Woods were met with a 9 and 8 defeat at the Match Play tournament. Rory Sabbatini and Sergio Garcia can share war stories along these lines, too.

But that was then, when he was the great Tiger Woods.

Now he’s going to have to find the game to get his revenge.

He’s going to have to shut up the naysayers, like the British tabloid journalist who called Woods "an ordinary golfer" during Tuesday’s news conference.

His teammates think he may be closer than many believe.

"A lot of good shots," Hunter Mahan said when he was asked what he saw out of Woods during their practice round Tuesday.

Steve Stricker, who along with Zach Johnson played with them, agreed.

"I thought his game looked great," he said.

"He drove the ball great. His iron play was unbelievable.

"He looked really good. He’s talking very positively. I think his motivation level is high, as it always is for this event."

Mahan was more blunt.

"I think he’s going to find motivation in this week to kind of get back some U.S. fans, and I think he’s very, very eager to play well this week," he said of Woods.

"I think there’s been some challenges from the other team, so he’s definitely taking that head on.

"I think we all are."