Alone with his thoughts: Love drops below-par Woods for first time in Ryder Cup
20:12 GMT, 29 September 2012
Tiger Woods worked on the practice ground on Saturday morning, a lonely man unwanted by his country for the first time in his life.
His mood, silent and broody, contrasted sharply with the vibrant atmosphere on the golf course not far from where Woods rehearsed his short game.
At this Ryder Cup his old nemesis, Phil Mickelson, accompanied by young sidekick Keegan Bradley, have whipped the densely populated galleries into a frenzy. Their third win in partnership, when they demolished Lee Westwood and Luke Donald — both of whom have been No 1 in the world — by a humiliating 7&6 took place without Woods apparently seeing a ball struck.
Frozen out: Tiger Woods cuts a lonely figure on the practice ground
Once the most powerful golfer in the world, Woods’s stock dramatically plunged as night fell on Friday. At the end of a brief conversation in the locker room at Medinah Country Club, he was told that he would not be playing in the foursomes yesterday, the first time he has been dropped in a Ryder Cup.
When US captain Davis Love III announced the eight players he wanted to tighten the noose around the necks of the European team, Tiger was not among them, a decision that had the support of all his lieutenants, as well as a consensus of approval from inside the team.
Woods and Steve Stricker were the notable failures in an otherwise exemplary performance by the US team as they created a 5-3 lead after two sessions on Friday. Woods and Stricker had not contributed, having lost to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, 3&1 in the morning foursomes, then one down to Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts, who may never better the first round he played in the Ryder Cup.
Woods’s relationship with the competition has never been entirely harmonious. For a man with 14 major championships, Tiger has never truly embraced the notion that golf can be a team sport. And on Friday morning his driving was at its most reckless since he hit a fire hydrant as he was leaving his Florida mansion three years ago.
Dropped: Woods collects his thoughts
That infamous incident led to him being identified as a serial philanderer and changed the way he was perceived around in the world. But it has not required the skills of Sherlock Holmes to detect the hold Woods still has on audiences in the United States.
On Friday he was cheered every yard he walked the fairways, accompanied for much of the time by Michael Jordan, an even greater sporting icon in the neighbourhoods of Chicago than Woods.
Jordan, brought inside the US team room by Love, tried hard to inspire his friend to reach deep into his past for the game that once ruled the globe.
Woods managed a credible response with seven birdies in the afternoon fourballs but when his putt on the 18th rolled past the edge of the hole he could only offer his dues to Colsaerts, who conjured eight birdies and an eagle. Yet Woods would still have been taken by surprise when Love approached in the locker room to tell him, after his 18th defeat in 33 matches in the Ryder Cup, that he would not be needed to report for duty in the morning.
‘Tiger and Steve are very supportive friends of mine,’ said Love. ‘They told me they’d do whatever I asked them to do.
Making tough decisions: Davis Love III and former President George W Bush share a Medinah moment
‘But I can guarantee neither of them are happy about it. Not because I am sitting them out, but because they have to wait until tomorrow afternoon (Saturrday’s fourballs) to come back. But this is not about Tiger, Steve, or Bubba (Watson) or Webb (Simpson). It’s about this team trying to win.’
Love admitted that as Woods and Stricker played the 17th hole he had talked through his thoughts with Mickelson. ‘Phil gave me his input,’ said Love.
While Mickelson’s days of feuding with Woods are behind him, it is not unreasonable to speculate that old Leftie might have reported that the welfare of a team, firing on all but two cylinders, would not be harmed by letting form dictate the selection process.
Freddie Couples, Jeff Sluman, Scott Verplank and Mike Hulbert, vice-captains of the US team, were unafraid of the consequences, as Love explained. ‘I have been talking to Fred for over a year about this, and then talking to Scott and Jeff a lot in the last couple of months and we just felt we didn’t want anybody to have to play five matches on this golf course.
‘It’s a big, long course, 7,658 yards. It’s tough. And exactly what we said was going to happen happened to one of our best teams.
Agony: Woods reacts after missing his birdie putt on the 18th on Friday
‘We just don’t want guys to be worn out. We need Tiger and Steve in the afternoon. We need them on Sunday. There was a reason we sat Webb and Bubba out this morning, so they would be ready for the afternoon.’
Woods’s final act of the first day had been to look Colsaerts in the eye on the 18th green, and say: ‘Great playing, man.’ Over the years, he has been accustomed to being on the receiving end of such compliments.
But times have changed and from being the most powerful golfer in the world, Tiger Woods is no longer the most influential golfer — even in his own land.