Tiger Woods is undefeated at Medinah Country Club. He’s in the Chicago suburbs this week for an event at which victories have been difficult to come by, though.
It may be hard to believe, but Woods has been on the winning side of just one Ryder Cup. He’s compiled a 13-14-2 individual record, while the United States has gone just 1-5 with him in the lineup.
“Certainly I am responsible for that, because I didn’t earn the points that I was put out there for,” he said.
There are plenty of possible explanations for Woods’ mediocre record. Some say he doesn’t enjoy team play – a theory backed up by his losing record in foursomes and four-balls, compared with a 4-1-1 mark in singles – or that Woods’ teammates were intimidated during his dominant years.
The United States’ only victory since 1999 came when he was on the sidelines. A player’s Ryder Cup record is a reflection of his teammates’ play as well as his own: four of the event’s five sessions are team play.
“With as dominant as he was through most of those years, I think anyone would be a little surprised to see a .500 (record),” teammate Jim Furyk said. “But also … no one has an extremely good record on our team, would be my guess, and that would be because we haven’t won a lot of these matches.”
Medinah is the site of two of Woods’ 14 major victories – the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships. How much will that experience help Woods this week? He downplays its importance.
“It’s a different golf course again,” Woods said. “I’m going to need to do my homework.”
Woods’ success in the Chicago area can’t be overlooked, though. He also has won five times at nearby Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in what is now known as the BMW Championship.
The 1999 PGA was Woods’ second major-championship victory. He held off a hard-charging youngster named Sergio Garcia, who hit a memorable 6-iron from tree roots on the 16th hole to hang with Woods until the very end. Woods had to hole a ticklish 8-foot par putt on the 71st hole to salvage a one-shot victory over Garcia, who is back in Europe’s lineup this week after failing to make the team in 2010.
“That was a big one for me,” Woods said of the 1999 win, “because I changed my swing in ’97, and it took basically about a year-and-a-half for it to really get dialed in. And once I got rolling, I won . . . eight times that year. And to have won my second major was so important; it validated my first (1997 Masters) and gave me the confidence that I could go ahead and do this with this swing.”
His victory at Medinah preceded the “Tiger Slam,” Woods’ run of four consecutive major championships that started with the 2000 U.S. Open. That stretch of golf was the best of his career. It included a 15-shot victory at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and an eight-shot triumph at the Open Championship at St. Andrews.
Woods was laying the foundation on his legacy when he won at the 1999 PGA. That 2006 PGA is one of his last major wins. He won by five shots in 2006, but has won only two majors in the six years since.
Like the 1999 PGA, Woods arrives at Medinah on the other side of a swing change intended to increase his visits to the winner’s circle. He was working with instructor Butch Harmon at the time. Now Woods is two years into his tutelage with Sean Foley.
Woods has won three times this season, but he has uncharacteristically struggled on the weekends of major championships. That makes one wonder how will he hold up in the ever-present pressure of this week. At last week’s Tour Championship, Woods was tied for the first-round lead at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta but played the final three rounds in 2 over par to finish eight shots behind winner Brandt Snedeker.
This is the third time that Woods will arrive at the Ryder Cup not holding the No. 1 position in the Official World Golf Ranking. His new friend Rory McIlroy is the world’s top player, marking the first time since 1993 that Europe has had the world No. 1 on its side. Two years ago, McIlroy sparked a mini-controversy when he said he would relish the opportunity to play a struggling Woods in singles.
A matchup this week would pit the world’s two best players against each other. Woods would enjoy the opportunity to make McIlroy his foe.
“You’re always going to want to try and take out their best player, and that’s just part of the deal,” Woods said. “That’s a fun challenge.”
The Ryder Cup always is, though the United States hasn’t had much to celebrate.