THOMAS BOSWELL

With Tiger in the fold, smells like team spirit

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Friday, October 1, 2010

The most-watched sports event on earth is the World Cup, followed by the Olympics. The third-highest rated TV event, seen by about 2 billion people in 195 countries, is not the Super Bowl or World Series. It's the Ryder Cup that starts Friday. And Tiger Woods, only included thanks to a captain's pick, is in it.

Not much is expected of either Woods or the American team. British bookies don't like the U.S. chances in this exhibition, especially because the United States has not won the Cup on foreign soil in 17 years. In both 2004 and '06, the United States was annihilated by nine points each time, proving we can get crushed home or away.

This Ryder Cup has arrived largely off the American sports radar. But you might want to keep one eye on it anyway, just in case. This Cup feels, to me at least, like a perfect underdog opportunity for Woods to play the role of unselfish teammate and add a crucial element to a potential American upset in Wales.

"My bet is that if ever Tiger is going to be energized in a Ryder Cup, it is going to be this one," Jack Nicklaus was quoted as saying this week. He added if he was the U.S. captain, "I'd pick him 11 times out of 10."

Nothing beats a little attitude, and for once, the American team may have more of it.

"We are currently holding the Ryder Cup," Phil Mickelson said at the Celtic Manor Resort. "We brought it over here to show you what it looks like. We are going to be fighting hard to bring it home."

Of course, that Cup was won in 2008, when Woods was injured and the icy anti-chemistry between Phil and Tiger was absent.

If Woods, chosen by captain Corey Pavin, is part of another defeat, it'll be easy to say, "Don't they ever learn?"

Tiger is not a good Ryder Cup player (10-13-2). He might be even worse for team spirit - only one U.S. win in his five Cups. He has played in every match, always in the first group and keeps others on the bench. And whenever he loses, it just inspires the Europeans.

Ever since Woods went 1-3-1 in his first Cup in '97 and the United States lost by one point, it has been the only weak link of his professional career. But now, it could be a turning point.

This time, Woods is not only arriving after a sex scandal, a divorce and a rotten winless year with just two top-10 finishes, he's even rebuilding his swing with a new coach.

In a major event playing for your own glory, that sounds like a prescription for failure. Playing for your country in a team format, perhaps it's an ideal chance for the most gifted player who ever lived to freewheel it, catch a hot streak and start a turnaround.


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