- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

LAKE MANASSAS, Va. — Nothing boosts the energy at a sports event like a healthy measure of enmity.

The last time the Presidents Cup was played at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in 2000, Vijay Singh’s caddie showed up with the incendiary words “Tiger Who?” embroidered on his hat.

Tiger Woods hasn’t forgotten … and he doesn’t seem to have forgiven.

With the sixth edition of the event back on the shores of Lake Manassas this week, the 29-year-old Woods turned steely serious when asked about the incident.

“I certainly didn’t appreciate it,” said the 10-time major champion with an intense glare worthy of Robert De Niro. “I thought it wasn’t real respectful. I know he tried to do it in fun, but I didn’t take it that way. I went out there and beat him 2 and 1 [in the Sunday singles], so that’s my response to it.”

Woods and Singh are back this week, the de facto leaders of their respective squads as the World Nos. 1 and 2. And there’s little question that Woods would like another singles duel with the machine from Fiji.

Of course, both captains (Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player) and most of the principals hope the event maintains an intensity and animosity level well below that of the Ryder Cup.

“We don’t want this event to get to where the Ryder Cup got to — where it went out of control,” said Woods before referring once again to the sartorial choice of Singh’s caddie, Paul Tesori. “If those kinds of things continue to happen, the media plays on that and it gets built up and then it gets exponentially worse.”

Perhaps a little animus makes things worse for sportsmanship or the comfort level of the players. But it’s pretty clear that some pique here and there and a little inter-team angst has done wonders for the Ryder Cup’s popularity and ratings.

And it’s also clear that there is a certain edginess lurking just beneath the surface between the present squads.

There’s clearly still no love lost between Woods and Singh. It’s not that Tiger doesn’t enjoy giving and getting the needle as much as anyone. But his is a megastar’s appreciation for a snide comment between the ropes or a subtle barb in the locker room. Slight him in a public forum, showing him up for the world to see, and you’re likely to make an enemy for life.

“When he wore ‘Tiger Who,’ I don’t think that was the correct thing to do,” said U.S. veteran and likely Woods partner Fred Couples. “We all know who Tiger is. I’m sure in hindsight, he would have never done it. What’s funny to one guy isn’t necessarily funny to another.”

Ask a European Ryder Cupper or a member of this week’s International crew, and you’re likely to get a slightly different spin on the same thought — something like, “What’s funny to the rest of us, isn’t necessarily funny to a U.S. player.”

“Mate, the main difference is that we don’t get our knickers in a twist if someone calls us a [jerk],” said Australian Peter Lonard yesterday when asked about the contrast between the two teams.

That’s a somewhat bold, and certainly generalized, statement for a player ranked 38th in the world.

But there has long been the perception that the top U.S. players, those typically on these kinds of team squads, have a tendency to be too sensitive — too sensitive to media pressure, too sensitive to perceived slights and too sensitive about their images.

In a “60 Minutes” interview earlier this year sure to have engendered a little angst, Singh was asked about Phil Mickelson’s sheepish, omnipresent smile and public-embracing demeanor and responded by asking, “Yeah, but is that the real Phil?”

Is the “Real Phil” the one who always has insisted that he and Woods were extremely enthused about playing with one another at the last Ryder Cup, when U.S. captain Hal Sutton jammed them together, bucking conventional wisdom and flouting somewhat obvious personality differences, only to have his Team Titan slog to an 0-2 record. Undoubtedly, courtesy for Woods and respect for Sutton practically demanded at least some brand of optimism from Mickelson.

But a year later, the Internationals are still having fun with that pairing debacle. Asked yesterday whom he would pair with Tiger, Aussie Adam Scott consulted the U.S. roster and deadpanned, “Who has he got there? How about Phil — they did good together, didn’t they?”

According to Reuters, even the captains, longtime fast friends, experienced a tense moment yesterday because the International squad was signing autographs. Apparently, both captains had agreed in advance that there would be no signing this week. And when the visitors took a soften-up-the-home-crowd page out of last year’s European Ryder Cup playbook, Nicklaus claimed they were making his guys “look like jerks” — another image issue.

Well, then perhaps they should be signing autographs.

You aren’t likely to hear an International player say he feels bad that Uncle Sam’s squad has to make an extra time commitment for the good of the event.

A handful of the International players who were present at the last Presidents Cup in Fancourt, South Africa, are still somewhat irked that one of the reasons the event was called a draw because of darkness is because the U.S. team seemed reticent to commit to returning the following day.

“Everyone on our side definitely wanted to come back,” said International squad vice-captain Ian Baker-Finch before softening. “The logistics of where it was and the chartered flights, et cetera, didn’t allow for it.”

By definition, there are no immutable logistics when it comes to chartered flights.

Frankly, this week’s Presidents Cup is becoming more interesting every second. It’s not the Ryder Cup, but don’t let anyone on either side fool you. It’s no tea and crumpets convention either.

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