It’s the golf tournament that encapsulates fans like no other, and this week the frenzy comes around again. On Friday, Team USA and Team Europe will tee off against each other in the 43rd version of the Ryder Cup – at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin – with the the onus on the Americans to regain the trophy on home soil. Captain Steve Stricker has a blend of youth and experience with six rookies in his 12-man side, but one famous name will be notably absent.
Tiger Woods first appeared on the Ryder Cup stage way back in 1997 at Valderamma, and has since amassed eight tournament appearances. He missed 2008 due to knee surgery while ongoing back problems put paid to his chances of playing in both 2014 and 2016 – although in the latter he did serve as a vice-captain to Davis Love III.
Why is Tiger Woods not at the Ryder Cup?
For the 2021 version however, the 15-time major champion won’t be present in any capacity. He is yet to return from a serious car crash in February this year, which left him needing surgery for multiple leg injuries.
For all the question marks that have surrounded the form and fitness of Woods in recent years, his unavailability leaves Stricker without one of his most experienced campaigners. Woods, 45, is currently tied third in the list of Ryder Cup appearances by an American, with only Phil Mickelson (12) and Jim Furyk (9) having made more.
However, it is perhaps the aura of one of golf’s greatest ever players that Team USA will most. His record in matches, makes mixed reading.
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Indeed, Woods may have participated in eight Ryder Cups, but only in 1999 has he ended up on the winning side. In his singles match that year, he displayed rare emotion after beating Andrew Coltart 3&2, helping inspire a remarkable American fightback in a notorious contest, since dubbed the ‘Battle of Brookline’.
Indeed, it is in the singles format where Stricker and co will miss his prowess most. After losing to Costantino Rocca on debut in Spain, we went unbeaten in the six head-to head-matches that followed, notching four wins and two halves before losing again to Jon Rahm in Paris three years ago.
His record when paired with teammates however, is less than prolific, and has given fuel to the notion aired by critics that the single-mindedness of Woods is ill-suited to team golf.
In 14 foursomes matches, he has won just four times, with nine defeats and one half. His four-balls record is worse again, with five wins and ten losses from 15 attempts.
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Only Mickleson (47) has appeared in more Ryder Cup matches for Team USA than Woods (37), but the latter’s overall total of 15 points won leaves him some way off Billy Casper’s record of 23.5.
In the latter stages of his career however, 2016 and 2018 in particular, Woods has spoken about the tournament with considerably more warmth than he did in his younger years.
In 2002, he had to clarify comments after saying there were “a million reasons” why he would rather win the million-dollar first prize in the American Express event in Ireland than succeed in the Ryder Cup, later claiming he was joking.
In the 2012 ‘Miracle of Medinah’, with Europe having already dramatically retained the trophy, Woods still had a chance to secure a 14-14 draw for the Americans by beating Franceso Molinari. He opted instead to give the Italian a difficult putt on the 18th, thereby meaning a half and an outright defeat for his side.
And yet, it is difficult to shake the lingering feeling that Team USA, and the Ryder Cup stage, still needs Tiger Woods.
His experience alone would have served Stricker well, especially with six rookies in the pack, and his sheer presence is often deemed enough to galvanise American support and players around him.
In the opening ceremony in Paris in 2018 it was noticeable, even on European soil, that the biggest cheer when the players were introduced one-by-one to the masses was reserved for Woods.
Perhaps though, the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits is the time for fans on both sides to get used to watching one of the most iconic team events in sport without him.
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