Spander: Cup means more to Tiger than ever

He kept bringing up Stanford. Which made sense. He had watched the win over Notre Dame before he left the United States. Now Tiger Woods was talking about another team, Team America, the Ryder Cup squad on which he was a wild-card pick.

In golf, the most individual of games, Tiger Woods, the most individual of competitors, has never been much for group effort. Since leaving Stanford in 1996, that is.

His Ryder Cup record is less than what might be expected, 10 wins in 25 matches, individual and with partners. Woods often has seemed unenthusiastic about the competition, although this time, seeking to resurrect his image, seeking to show he’s just one of the guys, he was appreciative of being selected by U.S. captain Corey Pavin. (Who happens to be a UCLA grad. Yes, the Pac-10 presence is unavoidable.)

Woods, after the revelations of infidelities, after the rehab, after the divorce, after going a season without a victory in any event, major or minor, has become the focal point of this Ryder Cup.

The three-day matches between the U.S. and Europe start Friday at Celtic Manor just across the Severn River from England.
Woods in effect was challenged by 21-year-old Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, insisting he wanted to play Tiger, who a couple of weeks back at the BMW Tournament outside Chicago reportedly told McIlroy on the range, “Be careful what you wish for.”

What Pavin told the media Wednesday was if the match were to occur in Sunday’s singles, it would be luck of the draw, that to conspire with European captain Colin Montgomerie to set Woods against McIlroy would be “against the spirit of what the Ryder Cup is all about.”

Woods said in the past his reluctance to be part of the Cup teams, starting in 1997 when he was a rookie, was merely a reflection of a difference in ages. He was 10 to 15 years younger than most of his teammates.

“I came out of college, two years of playing for Stanford every week, and it was harder to relate because these guys were older than I was, and I just left the Stanford team,” said Woods, who was enrolled from 1994 to 1996. “As the years have gone by, there’s now a few guys who are younger than me on the team … I have been around the block, won major championships and tournaments all around the world, and they have all been there before.”

The Stanford connection is unavoidable. Last November, Woods was honorary captain of the Cardinal team that fell to Cal in the Big Game. He was on the field at halftime with his daughter and now ex-wife, Elin. Seven days later, he crashed his SUV into a hydrant in Florida and within hours his life began to unravel.

It’s been a difficult 10½ months for Woods, for reasons of his own causing, and now some place across the Atlantic, in the rolling, green hills of Wales, he tries to regain his touch and a measure of respect.

“I just need to go out there and play,” was Woods’ response.

He hopes as well as Stanford has played this football season.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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