Tiger’s Changing Cup Attitude

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 06, 2006
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The headlines are saying that Tiger Woods is taking charge of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.


Tom Lehman is captain of the squad and one of the most respected men on tour - prior to the opening round of the PGA Championship, Lehman was asked to handle the memorial service for a woman he had never met, Darren Clarke’s wife, Heather, who died following a long fight with breast cancer. The team will run along Lehman’s schedule. He will determine who plays, who sits and what the teams will be. But if the U.S. is to win, Tiger has to lead the way.

The Ryder Cup has never been at the top of Tiger’s wish list. The former Eldrick Woods plays nearly his entire schedule with one thought in mind: getting ready for the majors. That won’t change, but his recent actions make it appear that Tiger is tired of losing and that he is ready to take a leadership role.

He made the first step by rearranging his schedule to allow him to join the team on its charter flight to the K Club in County Kildare, Ireland. Both he and Mickelson were committed to other events at the same time, but chose to join their teammates. The second thing he did of importance, as basic as it seems, was to take his new young team-mates out to dinner. Both moves were met with enthusiasm by Lehman.

Woods downplayed his evening with first-time Ryder Cup competitors Brett Wetterich, Zach Johnson, Vaughn Taylor and J.J. Henry, saying it had nothing to do with sending a message or changing roles and everything with winning the tournament. So long as the result is victory, Woods can call it whatever he likes.

For years, golf fans have wondered how a man who dominates the game like no other can only be 7-11-2 in four Ryder Cup events. Tiger treats losing the way a preacher treats sin, with a hate that just oozes from his pores. So why does he keep getting beat by the same guys who often fold under the extreme pressure of playing against him? The answer may be simpler than one could imagine.

Tiger has never been an ideal teammate. Not that we’re suggesting that he’s a poison in the locker room, or that he forces himself to be the center of attention. It’s just that Tiger’s world is very different - even from those he plays with and against. Maybe it has something to do with being world-famous by the age of 16, the standard bearer for his sport and an advertising icon who has to be perfect in every interview and each second on camera - his sometime use of foul language notwithstanding.

Tiger must always be Tiger. Eldrick has to be locked away. It’s both a protection device and the fuel that drives his tremendous need to succeed, and serves the interest of the huge financial investments that are tied to his winning and his image.

Woods has developed his game and his routine into an exact science. He knows what work he needs, when he has to practice and what tournaments he will play in. No matter the coach, caddie or consultant, Tiger is in charge. And because of these things, Tiger is a bit of a loner.

No one on the tour seems to have anything bad to say about Woods. John Daly says he enjoys playing against him more than anyone, and calls Woods one of the funniest people he’s ever met. But the man who is the idol to millions has few close friends. His inner circle has a strict entrance policy and if you ever fall from favor, a return is nearly impossible.

The Ryder Cup is a much more social event that takes away some of the control to which individual athletes are accustomed. For Woods, control is everything. Taking that away from him means putting him in a situation that can be uncomfortable.

Maybe age and marriage have softened him a bit and he’s more ready to let people in - not inside the sacred circle, but close enough to enjoy a friendly working relationship. If this is the case, the U.S. just might win this thing. They have the horses, and with Tiger in a leadership role, winning could be contagious.

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