Love shows compassion in spite of Woods’s struggles

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The Ryder Cup enigma that is Tiger Woods continued to pose more questions than answers yesterday as day one unfolded at Medinah.

For 15 years spanning six matches, the world of golf has waited to see the most successful individual of the modern era transfer that aura of invincibility into the sport’s greatest team event.

He has never quite managed to do so.

Whether that be form, his early indifference towards an event that gets bigger with each passing match or his captain’s inability to pair him with a partner with whom he gels, the Ryder Cup has never quite seen the best of Woods.

In his pomp, when between 1997 and 2008 he won 14 major championships, the conundrum was even more baffling.

How could a man who sweeps all before him in strokeplay, and more often than not in the odd matchplay event, struggle to embrace the team environment of the Ryder Cup?

There were two instances that highlighted his approach to the matches.

The first was before the contest at The Belfry 2002 when he said he would rather win a World Golf Championship event in Ireland than the Ryder Cup with his team-mates.

“I can think of a million reasons why,” he said in an obvious reference to the first prize on offer at Mount Juliet in Ireland.

The second came two years later when he was first out at Oakland Hills alongside Phil Mickelson in what was perceived to be an unbeatable top pairing sent into action by captain Hal Sutton.

The two were defeated by 
Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, with Woods giving Mickelson an infamous, cold stare when the left-hander smashed a tee-shot on the 18th up against a fence.

Penny for Mickelson’s thoughts yesterday as Woods hit his opening tee shot so far left it hit a fence.

Mickelson was further up the course, establishing what would become an unstoppable first-day pairing with rookie Keegan Bradley.

The irony of the situation was either lost on Steve Stricker, Woods’s playing partner, or he has too much integrity to let it show.

He somehow rescued the situation and set up a par that resulted in a half on the first hole of their foursomes match against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.

On the par-five seventh, Woods hit a spectator on the head with his tee shot. The fan went to the ground, dazed, with his head bleeding.

The ball got a 30-yard cannon into the fairway and Stricker made the pairing’s first birdie of the day.

But there was only so much carrying Striker could do as Poulter and Rose eventually won 2&1.

Woods may no longer be the force that he once was but with three PGA Tour wins this year and a rise back up to second in the world, he has at least shown flashes of his old self.

During that rehabilitation, there have also been some horrific moments when Woods has looked nothing more than a struggling professional battling with his swing, which is exactly what he was in yesterday’s foursomes.

The former world No 1 has never looked at home in foursomes play. Perhaps it is the subconscious unwillingness to allow a partner to take the next shot when all he wants to do is grab the club and hit the ball himself.

For someone who relishes control, that relinquishing of the reins has never sat well with him.

Indeed, his record in the foursomes is so poor it is amazing he still gets picked. Yesterday’s defeat to Poulter and Rose earned Woods yet another record, though an unwanted one this time as it drew him alongside Ray Floyd as the American with most foursomes defeats. For the record that was his eighth loss in 14 matches.

It led to calls from commentators, pundits and fans for Davis Love III to drop his biggest name for the afternoon fourballs.

Such a move could have been the kick up the backside Woods needed, not only allowing him to go and work on his wayward game on the range, but also serving as a mental wake-up call.

Following his team-mates as they lived and died with every shot and seeing exactly what the Ryder Cup meant to them, might have been exactly what Woods needed to finally appreciate what the tournament means.

But Love, whether through fear or faith, continued a trend that dates back to Woods’s debut in 1997 of American captains never dropping their sporting superstar, regardless of his biennial toil. nd the early signs yesterday afternoon in Chicago were that Love’s faith would be repaid.

In the fourballs, again alongside Stricker who at least appears to be the perfect foil for Woods in the betterball format, the former world No 1 rediscovered some of his form and had at least straightened out his driving.

With control over his ball and the knowledge that he can go out and make birdies, he looked more comfortable. Love would be a fool to not field Woods in the fourballs today.

But for the morning foursomes? Surely it is time an American captain acknowledges that resting Woods is not a crime against sporting justice.

Woods’s woes were exploited to the maximum of a full point by English pairing Rose and Poulter.

Having led all the way, Poulter produced a key putt on the 16th that was greeted by his now trademark “Come on” roar – and a long, steely stare from Woods.

Poulter said: “We got up, they came back straight at us. We dug in deep.They had the crowd noise as well, but I had a rock next to me and he’s a delight to play with.”

He added: “Is (USA captain) Davis Love going to sit Tiger Woods? He’s the guy they get out there to fire them up.

“He didn’t quite fire them up (yesterday 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.”

Rose added: “It was amazing, you never know how you’re going to react to it. You just don’t know what it’s going to do to the insides.”