Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beware of the smile on the face of the Tiger

Tiger Woods cranked up the Ryder Cup tension a few notches yesterday with just two words as he picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Rory McIlroy, who had said he fancies his chances against the world No.1.
“Me too,” said Woods yesterday with a menacing smile when asked about the remark, and he firmly declined to elaborate. He didn’t need to. Woods is well known for feeding off such comments, as Canadian Stephen Ames will vouch.
Four years ago at La Costa, California, Ames publicly identified Woods’s erratic driving as a reason why he had a chance of beating him in the Accenture World Matchplay. Woods won the first nine holes and then shook hands with a humiliating 9 and 8 victory under his belt.
It was a result McIlroy’s fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell referred to last week when he, too, agreed that Woods was more beatable now than in the past but added: “I’m only wary that he tends to bottle these things up and take it out on you on the golf course.”

“I would love to face him,” said McIlroy last month, tempting providence. “Unless his game rapidly improves I think anyone in the European team would fancy their chances against him.”
McIlroy yesterday said he was unconcerned at any notion he had provided Woods with extra motivation but nevertheless tried to soften his comment, pointing out that it was made last month, just after Woods finished second from last in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, closing with a 77 for an 18-over aggregate of 298.
“So he wasn’t playing too well at that time,” said McIlroy, who was third in both the Open Championship at St Andrews and the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which is better than anything Woods has done this season.
“He’s obviously getting his game together, he’s working with Sean Foley and he’s making a few swing changes. I said this week and last week: I don’t mind who, I just want to win points against the [US] team. If that’s against Tiger or Phil Mickelson or Steve Stricker or Hunter Mahan or whoever, you just want to go out there and try to play as best you can. I feel that if I play to my potential this week, I’ll win a few points.”
McIlroy, at 21, is 13 years younger than Woods, and said that in his formative years he believed he (Tiger) was superhuman.
“Once you meet him you realise he’s a normal guy and works hard on his game and gets the most out of it,” said McIlroy. “But after what’s happened in the last 18 months, he’s still a fantastic guy, and I’m sure he’ll get back to winning the way he used to. Meantime, I suppose a little bit of that aura is probably gone.”
Woods would love nothing better than to restore that aura here in Wales this week and that sets the scene for a potentially electrifying game should the pair be pitted against each other.
Woods dodged questions about how he was perceived by wives and girlfriends of team-mates in the wake of his divorce and lurid tales of marital infidelity. “We are here as a team. We’re here to win the Ryder Cup,” he said, body-swerving the issue, after practising with Mahan, the winner at Firestone.
Whether that has any bearing on Friday’s pairings remains to be seen, but Woods did partner Steve Stricker to four wins out of four in last year’s Presidents Cup against the International team at San Francisco.
Pavin said the pairings would change again today, and added mysteriously that the groupings were for reasons that “will become obvious later”, in the same way that Paul Azinger’s ultimately successful pod system became apparent only as the week went on two years ago at Valhalla.
He also suggested that current form rather than perceived chemistry, friendship or historic success was more important.
Commenting on the Woods-Stricker partnership, Pavin said: “Tiger has been No.1 in the world for a long time and Steve was playing great last year at the time. When any two players are playing well they are going to be tough to beat, and it doesn’t matter who they are.”
Having been a winner twice this season on the PGA Tour and third in The Barclays, the first of the FedEx Cup play-offs, Stricker has the stronger recent record and Pavin will certainly be looking closely at their form as they try to figure out the Twenty Ten course in the remaining two days before the action starts for real.
Pavin’s other pairings were Zach Johnson and Stricker in the same group as Woods and Mahan while Jim Furyk and Jeff Overton were up against Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar, and Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler took on big hitters Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson.
As for the course, Pavin backed up Colin Montgomerie’s remarks that he had set it up not to favour the Europeans but to allow the better team to win. “The rough is thick and hard to get out of, but the fairways are the same widths as they were for the Wales Open when I played a year-and-a-half ago. It’s set up very fairly. It’s going to reward good play and you are going to be penalised in this rough. It reminds me a little bit of how the PGA is set up. How you play is what you’re going to get out of it.”
Woods, whose driving has long been his Achilles heel, also noted the severity of the rough, especially with wet and windy weather forecast.
“It’s just a matter of getting your lines and numbers. You need to be on the fairways. Some of the tees are going to be moved around, especially now with the weather coming in. The greens are pretty standard. There are a few fall-offs and false edges that are pretty apparent. You just need to make sure you hit the ball to the right number.”



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