- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England (AP) Tiger Woods barely had time to celebrate his World Golf Championship victory when he was reminded to join nine other Ryder Cup players and U.S. captain Curtis Strange for a team dinner.

"I should wear my tuxedo," Woods said.

He must have been genuinely happy when he left the dinner Sunday night.

Aware of his players' concerns about being stretched too thin during a hectic week at the Belfry, Strange said he will let them decide how much to practice leading up to the matches and even allow some free time.

"I'm going to give them some room," Strange said yesterday before his opening news conference with European captain Sam Torrance.

That doesn't mean Woods, David Duval or any other player will be on his own. Strange said he was merely being sensitive to what his guys need to do to play their best.

"We will act as we always act," he said. "This whole week takes you out of your normal routine, for any player, not just Tiger Woods. There's social functions we have to attend, which is fun. But when you come here, you're going to be part of a team."

There was no formal practice yesterday as the 10 Americans who played last week at Mount Juliet came over on a charter plane, and Hal Sutton and Stewart Cink were on their way from the Tampa Bay Classic.

The news was surely welcome to Woods.

One reason he doesn't get overly excited about the Ryder Cup is all the hoopla that comes with it, which makes for a tiring week of team practices, team photos and team galas before they get around to the essence of the Ryder Cup team matches.

In a candid interview last week in Ireland, Woods estimated that in his past two Ryder Cup experiences, he had about one hour a day of free time.

"And that's usually an hour spent driving somewhere," he said. "You don't have a lot of down time, even if you want to relax."

More than that, Woods likes to lift weights and run three miles a day.

There were times at the Country Club three years ago when he went to a photo session, to a four-man practice round, to a news conference, to the practice range, to the hotel to change clothes, to a formal dinner, and then to bed.

"We got home about 11 o'clock," he said. "You go to bed, get up the next morning about 6a.m., get out to the golf course by 7:30a.m., hit balls and go play," he said. "I had been lifting and running every day, but I couldn't do it that week. I never lifted the entire week.

"When the Ryder Cup first started, nobody lifted, nobody ran, nobody worked out. The norm was to go out and have a huge steak and a few drinks every night. Now, the guys are more health conscious."

Woods wasn't alone in complaining that a busy Ryder Cup week keeps players from preparing the way they prefer to at most big events.

Duval normally plays 18 holes on the Monday of a major, followed by nine holes each of the next two days. At the Ryder Cup, he felt he was on the course too much.

"The whole structure is different," Duval said. "The main thing is the way it's set up. They almost expect you to over practice. Everyone is different how they prepare, but you're not allowed to be different at a Ryder Cup."

Davis Love III said it's not all golf, all the time for the Americans. He recalled flying over on the Concorde for his first Ryder Cup in 1993, expecting everyone to be talking about the matches not playing a kids' game.

"We spent the whole time playing Pass the Pigs," Love said. "I thought we were going to have this big strategy session."

Still, he understands Woods' concerns.

"I'd like to have time to hit balls when I want, or do the things I want to do," Love said. "The thing you can't do is decide when you want to practice. But you've still got to get ready. You've got to get in shape to win that point."

The U.S. team is scheduled to practice at 9:45 this morning, and will practice at 9a.m. tomorrow.

During a typical week at a major championship, Woods will play nine holes Monday afternoon, then play 18 holes the next two days, starting at sunrise sometimes, such as at the Masters this year, he tees off before the course is even open for play.

The Ryder Cup is different.

"You just don't have the time to rest," he said. "If you're playing one match a day, fine. But if you're playing all five, you need to get some rest. I remember [Mark] O'Meara told me before my first Ryder Cup, 'Get all your sleep the week before, because you're not going to get any at the Ryder Cup.'

"I try to get as prepared as I can," Woods added. "I'm not giving that as an excuse. I do the best I can with the circumstances I'm given."

Strange said that although he will give his players a little more freedom, the team comes first. No one will practice alone, although not everyone has to play a practice round every day, or even play 18 holes on the days they do practice.

"If they want to play nine and then go putt, that's fine," Strange said. "I want Tiger and everyone else to do what they have to do to prepare."

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