Winning captains do no wrong. Losing captains are goats. It’s one of the unwritten Ryder Cup laws and Davis Love’s decision not to bench Tiger Woods for yesterday afternoon’s fourballs will only be judged with the benefit of the 20/20 vision that we call hindsight.
There was a time just a few years ago when it would not have been surprising to read the headline, “Tiger Woods in foursome shocker” on the front page of the National Enquirer.
Sadly for his Ryder Cup legacy, it’s a regular occurrence in the biennial team competition and he was so poor in a 2 and 1 morning foursomes defeat to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, speculation grew that Love would become the first captain to drop the 14-time major winner for a Ryder Cup session.
It didn’t happen. Love named Woods and Stricker in the fourballs to the dismay of former European captain Colin Montgomerie, who was sitting in the comfort of the Sky television studio.
“I’m astonished Tiger is playing this afternoon,” Montgomerie intoned. “I’d have take him off after nine holes, let alone 18. He’s been hopeless.”
Lo and behold, Wood played out his skin in the afternoon in what amounted to a singles clash with the Belgian rookie Nicolas Colsaerts. He made seven birdies and lipped out for an eighth on the 18th green that would have snatched a half and left Europe 5 1/2 - 2 1/2 behind.
Never mind that Colsaerts made eight birdies and an eagle in the greatest ever Ryder Cup debut.
“That’s unbelievable golf, and that’s usually what it takes to beat Tiger Woods,” Love said.
That will matter a whit to the Woods naysayers, who will glory in his haul of ‘null points’ from the opening day’s play.
There’s no denying that the 36-year old Californian was extraordinarily poor in the alternate shot format. That anyone was surprised was more of a shock given that he’d won just four of his previous 12 matches.
“I was hitting it awful and not doing anything well,” Woods said. “But I hit it good this afternoon. I drove it great this afternoon and was in position, but we ran into a guy who just made absolutely everything…He was like 7under through 10. I quit counting after that.”
Woods’ opening three wood was reminiscent of the waterbound effort he hit off the first tee at the K Club in 2006 - an ugly hook that rebounded off a hospitality pavilion and finished up against a fence.
It was not a one off and the litany of poor shots seemed endless. If he went left at the first, he lost the ball to the right several times on the front nine, drawing blood as he struck a man on the head at the seventh. He’d hit another spectator in Thursday’s practice rounds.
Despite all the poor shots, Woods gave the Americans a chance to snatch a half when he hit a towering long-iron to the 16th green when the Americans were two down. But Stricker missed the birdie putt and Poulter closed the door by sinking a clutch 12-footer for a half in par.
It seemed incongruous that Englishman was then rested by Jose Maria Olazabal for the afternoon fourballs as Woods skipped off to accompany Stricker again in the fourballs against Colsaerts and Lee Westwood.
Was Poulter was surprised that Woods was given the nod?
“Yeah, but he’s Tiger Woods,” Poulter said. “Is Davis Love going to sit Tiger Woods? He’s a brave man…. You know, he’s Tiger Woods. He’s the guy they get out there fired up. He didn’t quite fire them up this morning, but you never know. When Tiger is on he’s on and he’s very impressive, but when he’s not, he’s not. It’s a brave captain to leave him out.”
Woods almost rescued a half for his side last night, showing flashes of the brilliance that made him a 14-time major winner.
While Love left himself a hostage to Tiger’s fate yesterday, he only had to point to the scoreboard to justify his decision making. USA 5, Europe 3.