- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England "Motivation?" Curtis Strange said, echoing a TV interviewer's inquiry. "How do you motivate 12 selfish egomaniacs?"

Talk about trashing your own players. And here's more: Strange denied the much-vaunted "Tiger factor."

"Tiger is a wonderful player, but he has showed himself to be somewhat vulnerable over 18 holes of match-play golf," Strange averred.

The U.S. Ryder Cup captain, firing off caveats and broadsides, left no doubt about who's in charge. "I'm sure [the players] now know who's boss. Every team needs a leader, and I'm him. They should check their egos at the door."

Why isn't Woods the massive asset everyone else thinks? Because "cream rises to the top" over 72 holes but not necessarily over 18. Strange noted this statistic: In his last 10 Ryder Cup matches, Woods has amassed only three wins and a tie.

And then there are some other not-so-great stats: The United States trails Europe in their eight encounters since 1985 and in total points a side, it's 98-98.

Sobering stuff. So is there method in this Strange madness or modesty? You bet.

It's all about trying to change the odds from hot favorites to just slim favorites. He's fighting overconfidence and/or the pressure of being expected to stroll to victory.

On paper it's a walk in the park. Look at the Americans. Besides the peerless Woods, Phil Mickelson is ranked second in the world and add to that former major winners David Duval, Mark Calcavecchia, David Toms, Davis Love III, Hal Sutton and Paul Azinger.

All Europe can muster this time against many of the world's best is one top-10 player (Sergio Garcia) and one winner of a major (Bernhard Langer).

So Strange is fighting overconfidence and, yes, star-sized egos.

Strange said the team knows how competitive he has been in his career he won U.S. Opens back-to-back so he said they will accept without any (audible) murmur the tough decisions he makes. He can only pick four pairings for the first set of matches, leaving four disappointed men in the clubhouse or by the greenside. And, of course, there's the ticklish decision of who pairs up with whom until the 12 singles encounters on the last climactic day.

There's a suspicion that Mickelson, for instance, may just resent all the attention and adulation Woods gets.

On the European tour, it's not unusual to see two players at the top of the leader board laughing and joking over a drink in the clubhouse. But that's not a common sight across the Atlantic.

Woods and Mickelson reportedly barely exchange a word during the course of most tournaments.

Said Strange: "It's almost an impossibility to be best bosom buddies when you are both trying to achieve the same thing in sport, just like any other walk of life. Which CEO gets along with another CEO when they are trying to sell the same product?

"But we are a team, and we do get along. Everybody has checked their ego in at the door, and people should not read too much into it."

However, Calcavecchia, Woods' probable partner in tomorrow's opening fourball format, admitted life around the world's two leading golfers can be tough.

"It does get awkward at times. I know where they are both coming from because Tiger wants to stay number one and Phil is desperate to get there.

"How friendly can they really be when they have that sort of intense rivalry 51 weeks a year?"

But then that's the beauty of the Ryder Cup: It's the 52nd week.

And as Garcia put it: "What's happened here before means nothing. The atmosphere and energy inside you change once the Ryder Cup starts."

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