After a big year, Tiger Woods needs some rest
PARIS — Tiger Woods is not used to others celebrating at his expense, but there he was on the 17th green Sunday afternoon, helpless. Jon Rahm had knocked his approach shot stiff, a short birdie putt away from putting Woods out of his misery, another Ryder Cup match lost.
One of golf’s great mysteries continues: Why is Woods’ Ryder Cup record so lousy?
He went 0-4 at Le Golf National after what was an inspired effort to even be part of the U.S. team. He came to France off the jubilation of victory at the Tour Championship, a satisfying-yet-emotional win that obviously left him spent, and he departed with the worst record of any player in the competition.
Two more Ryder Cup partners went on his résumé — Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau — adding to a long list of infamy that has seen Woods’ overall record drop to 13-21-3. He’s 9-19-1 with partners, and lost at singles for the first time since 1997.
All manner of explanations have been given over the years, none of which really apply now, if they ever did: he doesn’t care; he doesn’t like playing with a partner; he’s horrible at team events.
Woods might have had his issues 20 years ago, but now as one of the game’s elder statesmen, he has become heavily involved in the U.S. Ryder Cup process that selects the captains and assistant captains. He has already signed on to be the U.S. Presidents Cup captain in 2019 — and why would a guy who doesn’t give a rip do that? — with an eye on a future Ryder Cup captaincy.
And if you want to put Woods down for withering in the moment, that simply ignores his long career body of work, which includes his victory a week ago in Atlanta.
“We all saw his great win last week, and I think that took something out of him,” said Francesco Molinari, who went 5-0 for the Europeans and three times defeated Woods in the team competition. “But he was still hitting great shots. He’s still a really tough competitor.”
Said Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava: “I think he’s frustrated and also disappointed because he knows he was playing well coming into the tournament. But I don’t think he’s going to let it spoil the year that he had. It is going to sting for a while. Didn’t win a match, and that hurts.
“But you know what, better things are ahead.”
First off, there will be rest.
Woods looked as if he could use it. In brief comments after losing his match to Rahm 2 and 1, he was resigned to having cost the U.S. a chance at victory with his play over the past three days. A few hours later, when the entire team conducted a postmatch news conference, Woods looked exhausted, as if he could fall asleep at any moment.
“I played seven out of nine weeks because I qualified for [the WGC event in] Akron, and all of those are big events, starting with the Open Championship, you’ve got the World Golf Championships, you’ve got another major championship, you’ve got the [FedEx] playoffs and then you have the Ryder Cup on the back side.
“So a lot of big events, and a lot of focus, a lot of energy goes into it. I was fortunate enough to have won one, and we were all coming here on a high and feeling great about our games, about what we were doing, and excited about playing this week.”
It never carried over. On Tuesday, Phil Mickelson said, “I honestly think this is the best I’ve seen him swing the club since 2000.” But Woods never brought that same speed and cohesion to the event.
At times throughout the Ryder Cup, Woods appeared to be moving slowly and swinging without much conviction. He had his moments, just not enough of them. On Sunday, he eagled the ninth hole and birdied the 12th, but as LaCava said, “That’s never going to be enough in something like this.”
After posting seven top-7s, climbing from 656th in the world to 13th, winning his first tournament in five years and being part of the Ryder Cup team, Woods, 42, is probably in for a long, extended break.
There is a chance he might play a late fall event on the PGA Tour before his scheduled Thanksgiving weekend match with Mickelson, followed by the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. It makes sense if that is all he does.
“For me, it’s been a lot of golf in a short period,” he said. “I’ll have a better understanding of what my training needs to be for next year so that I certainly can endure the entire season because this year was very much up in the air of how much I would play or if I would play at all.”
As it turned out, Woods played a ton, missing only two cuts and competing in 68 official rounds on the PGA Tour. The Ryder Cup made for a 19th event, a total number of tournaments he has exceeded once in the past 13 years.
So yes, Woods had a lousy Ryder Cup. So did Mickelson. So did No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson. Jordan Spieth lost at singles for the sixth time in six tries in both Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup competition. DeChambeau, in his first Ryder Cup, was shut out.
There was plenty of blame to go around, but Woods’ name will show up at the bottom of the stat sheet, his 0-4 record there for all to see where the scoreboard is the ultimate judge.
And yet, Woods deserves a bigger-picture view. After all he endured to get back here, and after the success he had along the way, the Ryder Cup pain is undeniable. So are the bodily aches he has endured along the way.
But it will pass in time, and just getting here will be celebrated, even if the result will not.