Thursday, October 03, 2013


Even a hole in one by the 20-year-old Jordan Spieth during Presidents Cup practice on Wednesday was not enough to persuade Tiger Woods that here was a partner with the exuberance to revive his team matchplay record
Instead, Woods chose Matt Kuchar to accompany him in the opening fourballs on Thursday in the biennial match against the Internationals at Muirfield Village, Ohio.
We know it was Woods’s call, because the US captain said so. “Tiger decides who he plays with,” Fred Couples said.
In the context of this four-day encounter it probably does not much matter who Woods partners; two years ago he collected only one point from his fourballs and foursomes and the Americans still trounced the Internationals for the fifth time in succession.
But while the Starred and Striped will very likely effect yet another Presidents landslide regardless of who Woods links up with, that partnership could be all important when it comes to the Ryder Cup next year.
Let it be remembered that Woods and Steve Stricker lost all three of their games against Europe at Medinah last year – and America ended up losing the Ryder Cup by a point. Little wonder then that Davis Love II, the captain of that US side who this week is Couples’ assistant, admitted that the duo “were probably tired of playing with each other”.
With Woods having lost six of the past seven matches he has played in with a partner, it was time for him to find a new guy.
Kuchar will be his 19th partner in Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups. That sounds a lot but, in fairness, the nature of American team golf has plenty to do with this number.
The record books show that while Europe (and when they were Great Britain and Ireland) have enjoyed 11 pairings who played together in the Ryder Cup seven times or more, the US cannot claim a single pairing who ever played together in more than six games.
Why? Well, apart from the fact they have never boasted a Ballesteros and Olazabal (played 15, won 11) or even a Clarke and Westwood (played eight, won six), because of their strength of depth the Americans have a far greater turnover of players. Ignoring, for a moment, the partners with which Woods blatantly did not gel – most obviously, Phil Mickelson in 2004.
Woods has seen partners come and go, including Charles Howell, his friend with whom he won three out of five in the only two President Cups in which the latter played.
Woods’s most fruitful partnership was with Jim Furyk. They won six points out of nine between 2005-07. In the midst of injury and scandal that pairing was mysteriously dropped as Woods found Stricker and they won four out of four in the 2009 Presidents Cup and won their first two in the 2010 Ryder Cup.
But then Westwood and Luke Donald crushed them 7 & 6, starting a run of five straight losses. Cue the switch. Kuchar is in the same, solid mode as Stricker and Furyk and Woods feels at ease in his company.
But there is a sense that Woods needs dragging from his comfort zone in team matchplay and who better than to do so than Spieth, the first player to earn his Tour card after starting the season with no status since Woods himself?
One only had to see how Mickelson responded to his pairing with young Keegan Bradley in Chicago 12 months ago. “I was re-energised,” was how Mickelson described it, reflecing on their 100 per cent run.
Mickelson’s combined record in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup is not too dissimilar too that of Woods – Mickelson has won 40pts from 80; Woods, 35 from 68 – but the left-hander seems a different proposition now.
But no, Spieth will play with 46-year-old Stricker against . Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge, while Woods-Kuchar take on Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman and Mickelson-Bradley face Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Spieth brought the crowd to their feet in practice and to their vocal best when, in the company of Stricker, Woods and Kuchar, he holed his seven iron from 173 yards on the par 12th. Woods high-fived him.
In truth, that is a scene the American galleries should be witnessing again on Thursday.



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