- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2000

GAINESVILLE, Va. Tiger Woods has a tiny wart on the face of his otherwise flawless professional resume. In three team match-play competitions, Woods has compiled a surprisingly pedestrian 5-9-1 record.

"A lot of times I've tried my best, and I've played terrible and couldn't help out my partner one bit. And there have been other times where I've played well, and my partner didn't help me out," said Woods, who will try to find some chemistry with former Stanford teammate Notah Begay in today's opening series of foursomes at the Presidents Cup. "The only thing I can do is go out there and give it everything I have, which I do. And how my record comes out, it comes out. But that's the only thing I can guarantee."

Since Woods joined the professional fray at the end of the 1996 season, he has managed to put together the most astounding start the game has ever seen. Repetition has led most fans to take his staggering successes and statistics for granted: 24 PGA Tour victories in just 94 pro starts, four major championship titles, completion of the career Grand Slam at 24, sole possession or a share of of the scoring record at each of the major championships, the two lowest adjusted scoring averages in history and the career money lead ($19,601,950) in just over four full seasons.

Perhaps that litany of outrageous individual accomplishments is exactly what accentuates his forgettable results in the Ryder and Presidents Cups. After all, it's not like Woods isn't a match-play mavin; you can't become the first player in history to win three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles without a total command of the format.

So why has Woods not forged a similar record in the team events?

Well, for one thing, he has to rely on somebody else in his foursome and four-ball matches. That certainly makes this week's matches a little more suspense-filled than this year's walkover majors. But it also means that in the foursomes Woods will be forced to shape his game around a player who is by definition frustratingly less capable than himself.

On a deeper level, however, Woods no doubt finds it more difficult to get his competitive juices gushing in the Ryder and Presidents Cups than he does at the majors. And why not? As Woods boldly stated at last year's Ryder Cup, these events are "just exhibitions." And who can argue with that assessment? Despite all the hype and pseudo-patriotic interest that surrounds the Ryder Cup, and to a lesser extent the Presidents Cup, the outcome in the team match-play events is virtually meaningless.

Golfers aren't measured by their Ryder/Presidents Cup records. Almost nobody remembers that Jack Nicklaus posted an extremely average 4-4-2 record in Ryder Cup singles matches. Where Nicklaus is concerned, the only mark that matters is his 18 major championship victories. For Woods, who constantly reminds the world that he prepares himself to peak four times per season (at the Grand Slams), there's precious little emotional energy reserved for the Presidents Cup. That doesn't mean Woods doesn't won't put forth any effort this week. But why should anyone expect Woods to approach golf's Blue-Gray game like the Orange Bowl?

Unfortunately, however, Woods' somewhat indifferent attitude toward the event could be emblematic of the chemistry problems the U.S. team has had relative to European and International teams in recent years. Leaving little doubt as to their notion of the event's stature, yesterday neither Woods nor any of his teammates would commit to attending the 2002 Presidents Cup, which will almost certainly be held in South Africa.

"[If you're on the team] 15 straight years, half of those years you're going to be going overseas because of the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup," said Woods. "That's asking a lot. Then if you throw in what we're trying to do now with the Olympics and the World Golf Championships, it's asking a lot of the players. Some of the players, yeah, they'll do it, and other players may be a little more hesitant."

Most of that reticence among the U.S. team members seems to stem from the experience the Americans had at the 1998 Presidents Cup, when the Internationals thrashed a weary, uninspired U.S. team 20 1/2 to 11 1/2 at Royal Melbourne in Australia.

"I think a lot of it was timing," said Woods of the event, which took place in mid-December. "The last Presidents Cup we were in amidst all of us trying to take our break and trying to get ready for the holidays. It had been a long season, and the timing wasn't the best for us."

International stalwart Nick Price scoffed at the explanation.

"We were all tired, and we had all traveled. It was past the season for all of us. It wasn't a good time," said Price. "I was exhausted at the end of the week, I really was. And I think that can be said for everyone… . But I think we adapted better than the U.S. team did."

Perhaps that adaptability explains why foreign teams that routinely look less formidable than the U.S. on paper regularly push Uncle Sam's squad to the limit in team events. Both the European and particularly the International team members spend a lifetime traveling overseas and adapting to strange cities and different cultures. Perhaps they are also more capable of instantly adapting to the rarely-used team match-play format than the U.S. players.

Quite frankly, the U.S. players have been spoiled by the convenience of a U.S.-centric golf world in which three of the majors are played in the States every year. They have been spoiled by playing on a tour that boasts purses each week that are at least double those seen around the rest of the globe. You never heard a European player grousing about money when the play-for-pay scandal consumed the Ryder Cup last year. And you don't hear any International players griping about the fact that they have had to leave their homelands behind and move to the United States to make a living playing golf.

It's difficult to blame Woods and Co. for their perspective, though perhaps it explains their struggles in team competitions. And it's impossible to blame anybody playing basically an individual sport like golf for their lack of desperate fire in a team event. But maybe you can question Woods and some of his cohorts for overlooking the spirit of the event which is to occasionally share the game of golf with the rest of the world for free.

"It's not a question of what you personally want to do," said Price. "To us, 12 guys go and travel for one week out of 52 to play in a foreign country for the betterment of the game, because that's what we're here for. There's no money in it for us. We're here to play head-to-head competition against the 12 best players from America, and we want to put on a great show."

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