Woods on a Medinah mission after admitting he has let down the US in the past
22:12 GMT, 25 September 2012
There is a moment in the supernatural western High Plains Drifter, when a townswoman rounds on Clint Eastwood’s mysterious stranger.
‘You’re a man who makes people afraid and that’s dangerous,’ she says.
The Stranger eyes her coolly. ‘It’s what people know about themselves inside that makes them afraid,’ he says.
So is Tiger scared of Rory, as has been suggested Hell, no. Tiger’s scared of Tiger. He’s scared of Tiger now, of Tiger back then.
Looking for the Midas touch: Love (left) and Woods get their hands on the trophy on Tuesday
And it is this fear that he must overcome when the 39th Ryder Cup tees off at Medinah Country Club, to the north of Chicago, on Friday.
From 1997 to 2008, Tiger Woods was the greatest golfer in the world. He won 14 major tournaments and earned more than 50million in prize money alone. And won a single Ryder Cup.
The USA have claimed just two of the past eight editions and Woods was missing for one of those wins, through injury in 2008. His points average per game is 0.48, making him marginally better than David Toms, but not quite up there with Steve Stricker.
And now we are here, in the Mid-West, with the last great gunslinger of American golf trying to relive past glories. It is not the young men of Europe stepping up to the former world No 1 that unnerves him. Challengers have come and gone before. But Woods is older now and vulnerable.
Gearing up: Woods takes in a practice round at Medinah on Tuesday
He is in his best form since returning to the game after what amounted to a breakdown, but it has still not brought him that 15th major. And Woods, like every other member of the American team barring rookies, has a losing Ryder Cup record.
If he could not do it when his supremacy was undisputed, why now For he wants it, without doubt, more than ever. Davis Love III, the USA captain, sees almost neediness in Woods, a desire to make up for lost years as a team player.
‘If we have had 50 conversations in the last year, 48 have been about the Ryder Cup,’ said Love.
At Medinah on Tuesday, Woods met the issue of his previous failure head on. Did he feel personally responsible for Europe’s domination, at a time when he was the best by a street Indeed, he did.
‘Certainly I am responsible for that, because I didn’t earn the points that I was put out there for,’ replied Woods. ‘I was out there, what, in five sessions each time, and I didn’t go 5‑0 on our side.
All smiles: But Woods has only enjoyed success in the Ryder Cup once previously
‘So I’m part of that because that’s part of being a team. I needed to go get points and I didn’t. I hope I can do that this week and we can get this thing going.
‘Brookline in 1999 (his only win), I’ve just never been part of anything like that. It was an experience I will never, ever, forget. The way we did it on that Sunday, to come back like that, no-one’s ever seen anything quite like it. To be part of that, of the early rush, was quite something. I was fourth or fifth match out and it was like those matches were being, not just won, but won by such huge margins.
‘We were blowing those matches out, not squeaking them, which added to the atmosphere. There was birdie after birdie after birdie and we were just rolling.’
To hear Woods needing to hark back to a previous century to locate his precious Ryder Cup memories, however, only brought home the extent of recent European domination. Behind the podium, a board charted the results of the previous 38 tournaments, the way American supremacy had been so complete that Britain was forced to summon help, first from Ireland in 1973, then the rest of Europe in 1979.
Eye of the Tiger: Woods plays a bunker shot on Tuesday
Even then, it made little difference initially. Between 1935 and 1983 only once – at Lindrick, Yorkshire, in 1957 – did USA lose.
And then European golf began to be defined by team play, even those, like Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood, who could not secure majors as individuals.
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Team player: Woods and Mickelson (left) share a joke
They were most certainly not in it together. Mickelson had left Tiger in it, most certainly, but alone.
Now, later in his career, his private life a late-night punchline, his reputation a question mark, Woods feels the need to be at the heart of Team America in the Ryder Cup.
‘Team golf is very similar to what we did in college or university,’ he said.
‘Yet this is for the United States of America, so when it gets to a certain point, either Friday afternoon, late in the evening, or Saturday late in the evening, and all the teams are gathered and there’s one group out there – if you happen to be in that group, it’s so much heat. It’s very different because playing for your team-mates adds another element.
‘We all get to know each other and then it comes down to one moment.’
Raring to go: Woods has returned to form this year
And yet, one senses, Woods still felt most comfortable when he was a man apart and winning: his singles record at the Ryder Cup is far superior to his pairs play.
‘This is a God fearing town; these are God fearing people,’ the sheriff tells Eastwood’s enigmatic cowboy.
‘You like ’em, you save ’em,’ replies The Stranger.
Woods once exuded a similarly uncompromising aura. Without that post-sabbatical major, however, the air of icy intimidation has gone. He remains America’s best shot at this 39th Ryder Cup but if, as Greg Norman suggested, there is now fear of Rory McIlroy, it will be what Woods knows about himself that has changed.