Tiger Woods is unlikely to ever recover fully from the exposure of his misdemeanours away from the course and the infidelity towards his now ex-wife Elin Nordegren – that is one weight he will carry until he retreats from the public eye entirely. With his private dealings now very much public, the focus on Woods has turned away from what put him in the the public eye in the first place – being the greatest golfer of his generation and the reason why so many golfers are now millionaires – just ask Jim Furyk who recently won £7 million at the Tour Championship. For all the coverage of Woods in the past months, very little of it has been about his golfing exploits, but then again there hasn’t been that much to write home about – he hasn’t won a tournament in nearly a year and his recent displays have been average at best.
Yet despite nine months off and some woeful form, Woods has managed to cling onto the top spot in the world rankings, emphasising just how dominant he was before everything went awry. So for Woods, the intense glare of the world’s sporting press will follow him to the Usk Valley in South Wales and the biggest golfing event in the world in the Ryder Cup. While it is a distraction he could do without, an event where his game (and personality) will be under more scrutiny than normal, it is an event that could see either the rebirth of his legend or him sinking further into the golfing mire. This week, Tiger Woods has a chance to turn his golfing fortunes around in the space of a few short days and I hope for the sake of Golf he is capable of doing so.
Tiger Woods is without doubt the reason that I and countless other youngsters started playing after seeing him saunter home to win The Masters in 1997, but now Woods must gain the confidence to inspire himself to restart his career in an event where he has traditionally struggled. Woods, by is nature, is not a team player – he exemplified that in the frosty and unsuccessful partnership with Phil Mickelson forced upon him by Hal Sutton in 2004, while his record reads at 6-12-1 in the Ryder Cup doubles events. So why on earth should anyway have confidence that Woods can turn it around? The answer lies in Wisconsin native Steve Stricker. Stricker might finally be the compliment to Tigers’ aggressive golfing style that is much more akin to stroke play – he is an average length but accurate driver of the ball, while he is renowned for his dead-eye putting. Paired with Woods at the Presidents Cup (America vs the Rest of the World), the tandem romped home to a 4-0-0 record – Pencil Woods/Stricker into the doubles events right now, because a record like that cannot be overlooked when you account for nearly a third of the score needed to win the Cup.
If Corey Pavin is smart, he might hang back on putting the partnership out in the pivotal first match on Friday morning. The reason? Tiger might need to be eased back into an event he hasn’t played in since 2006 and the prospect of facing Europe’s best player in Lee Westwood and the fiery Ian Poulter, not to mention the partisan support of the home crowd surrounding that first tee. This is not the dominant Tiger of old, but one which needs all the confidence he can get. The worst case scenario in the lower matches would be meeting the defending World Cup of Golf champions Francesco and Edoardo Molinari who will do well to overcome the atmosphere of facing Tiger as Ryder Cup rookies.
A similar showing to his Presidents Cup performance at Celtic Manor will give the United States a footing to gain control going into Sunday and the up and down nature of the Singles – just for the record,Woods has only ever lost one singles Ryder Cup match, way back to Constantino Rocca at Valderrama in 1997. A flawless showing might not be enough to banish all the talk of his off-course dealings, but for Woods, it might well breath life back into a player who still has a chance of catching the greatest of all time, 18-time Major winner Jack Nicklaus. For the sake of the next generation of golfers, let us hope Woods can show the form of old and the re-capture the reason why we started talking about him in first place – for his Golf.