“Was Tiger a Good Pick?”

A reader asked me yesterday if I thought Tiger was a good pick by Captain Corey Pavin to the Ryder Cup Team. 

And my answer was “yes.” And my reasons were the same as everybody else who has an opinion about this: 

  • He’s the number one ranked player in the world.
  • He has a dominant presence in the other players’ minds when they read about him, watch him on television, when he’s on the grounds, when they play him.
  • Although he has had spans of uneven play recently, his new swing is coming around and he’s had over two weeks to work on it since he missed getting into the Tour Championship.
  • He and Steve Stricker are a good Fourballs and Foursomes team.

 Beyond that: 

  • Since Fourballs is the Friday morning format, if Tiger can get out with Stricker (as was just announced that he would) and play well, that could feed his confidence and ability to play in all five possible matches: Fourballs, Foursomes, Fourballs, Foursomes and Singles. (I thought Pavin did a masterful job of “tucking” Tiger into the third tee time. It avoids that huge, pent up, initial energy release of the European gallery at the first tee time and diffuses any notion that Tiger is our only hope by keeping him out to the fourth tee time. Both take pressure off of Tiger.)
  • If he doesn’t play well, Stricker is a very steady player and with occasional help from Tiger, could still win the match on his own ball.
  • This latter scenario would give Pavin ample justification to hold Tiger out of the afternoon Foursomes, give some of the rookies a chance and still give him the freedom to play Tiger in the safer Fourballs Saturday morning in hopes that he finds his footing.
  • Even though whoever draws Tiger in the Singles on Sunday may feel he has an edge due to Tiger’s recent play, they know in their heart that he’s still Tiger Woods and that he has been tenaciously working on his swing. Tiger is nothing if not tenacious. If Tiger arrives on the first tee with his “stone face” on, even if he wasn’t totally successful in the Fourballs and Foursomes, and gets early momentum that doesn’t appear to be faltering, he’ll win a point for the team.
  • If he doesn’t get that early momentum and the match wallows late into the back nine, Tiger may feel an instinctive, competitive need to “make something happen.” Unless he’s close with his swing changes, putting pressure on a new swing is never a good thing. It feels the same as trying to hit uphill into the wind. Operating at the edge is fine when you need to, pressing is not.

But there’s this. 

The early week furor revolved around Rory McIlroy’s comments about how he would like to play Tiger in singles. 

Early efforts to diffuse this “call-out” of Tiger came from Phil Michelson who opined, in so many words, “All good players want to play the best. That’s how you get better, even if you fail. But one day you will prevail and that’s what we all strive for.” It was a very gracious way for Phil to throw oil upon the waters. 

But the British press are relentless muckrakers and when McIlroy was asked again about his comments he said in dismay, again paraphrasing, “Well, I said that after he’d shot 18-over at the World Golf Championship (in early August at Firestone), and who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?” 

So the press ran back to Tiger and told him what McIlroy said. 

And Tiger, in his implacable Tigerness, simply deadpanned, “Me too.” As in, “Are you talking to me?” This is what is now expected of Tiger after he delivered thrashings to other hapless upstarts over the years who made the mistake of announcing they thought they had what it takes. He had to say this to maintain the aura. 

But I thought his voice was a little higher in his throat and he had a hint of embarrassment at the left corner of his mouth, as if hoping no one would see though his obligatory, “whistling past the graveyard,” bravado. If that’s what I saw. It was just a flash.

I hope I’m wrong.

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