In Stricker, Woods finds his match
Complete Presidents Cup coverage
SAN FRANCISCO – They were humiliating Ryder Cup defeats on each occasion, bookend 18 1/2 - 9 1/2 drubbings in 2004 and 2006, but the brunt of the criticism was not directed toward the team. Instead, Tiger Woods was the posterboy for all that was wrong with this American team golf business.
He was the world’s greatest golfer, except when the team thing rolled around. Then he was clueless. That he didn’t care.
“That’s the furthest thing from the truth. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met,” Steve Stricker said.
If he weren’t a midwestern gentleman of the highest order, Stricker would have added some spice to his comments, but instead he shook his head.
“It’s a bunch of baloney.”
What was so often ignored when Woods’ team play was accounted for was this: Captain after captain, be he Ryder Cup or Presidents, subscribed to a theory that it was better to spread the wealth and give a lot of players a chance to be tugged along by the greatest player.
Presidents Cup: Day 2
The U.S. carried over its lead from Thursday's foursomes at the Presidents Cup, and remain one point ahead of the International Team.
In theory, solid stuff.
In practice, well, not so solid, and through the years pairings alongside major winners Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Justin Leonard, Tom Lehman, Paul Azinger and Mark Calcavecchia have combined for an 0-7-1 record.
Next to Steve Pate, Notah Begay, and Chris Riley? He was 4-3. Go figure.
Then again, don’t even try. Instead, captain Jack Nicklaus in 2005 at the Presidents Cup came up with a novel idea. Why not ask Woods if he had a preference as to with whom he’d like to play. With very little fanfare, Woods suggested Jim Furyk. At RTJ Golf Course in Virginia, the pair went 2-0-1 and in the cool twilight of an autumn Sunday, a team celebration was under way at the 18th green when a smile resonated brightest.
“I’ve finally found a partner,” Woods said, pushing his hat back on his head and letting out a great sigh.
Seemingly, this team stuff has been easier on his psyche ever since and nothing that has taken place the last two days at Harding Park Golf Course changes that view.
Granted a partnership alongside a player whom he respects greatly – Stricker – Woods appears to be a man on a mission. To reiterate his superiority? Nah. More likely, he’d like to dispel once and for all the nonsense that swirls around him at these team events.
So far, so good, because for a second straight day, Woods teamed with Stricker to play near-flawless golf. Backing up their 6-and-4 win in Thursday’s foursomes, the good friends stormed to a 5-and-3 victory in four-ball, meaning they have yet to play the 16th, 17th and 18th holes.
No big deal there, because they’re pedestrian holes so Woods and Stricker aren’t missing much. Nor are they missing a beat, given that they’ve lost just one hole in two days and have been in the lead in 26 of their 29 holes.
Not a bad gig, eh, Strick?
“It’s fun watching,” Stricker said. “I try not to be very aggressive into the greens, just letting him do what he does.”
Which is play golf like no other human and hit shots that others can only dream about. Like the skyscraper 8-iron from 173 yards at the par-4 15th that came to rest 5 feet from the hole and ended the four-ball proceeding against Angel Cabrera and Geoff Ogilvy?
Stricker smiled and nodded his head. That’s exactly the sort of stuff he meant. Had Woods been allowed to putt it out, it would have been his fifth birdie in a bogey-free round. For two days, he and Stricker have gone 11 under for their 29 holes.
Now 7-2-1 in team play at the Presidents Cup since 2005, Woods appears totally at ease with Stricker, his 17th partner in the Ryder and Presidents Cups. The man from Wisconsin, by the way, feels similarly.
“We’ve played a lot of golf lately and I feel comfortable with the guy,” Stricker said. “He’s so good, it’s fun.”
Perhaps if you sought a second opinion you’d turn to Ogilvy, who has been on the short end of each defeat – foursomes with 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, four-ball with the veteran Cabrera.
Two days, one hole won, never close to being in the match. It’s been tough on the International Team’s leading man in the qualifying standings.
“I feel sorry for Geoff, but Geoff’s got big shoulders,” International Team assistant captain Frank Nobilo said. “He was ready. He wanted to take Ishikawa. You’ve got to try. Our players aren’t afraid to try things and the captain isn’t afraid to try.”
But lining up against Woods has thus far been fruitless. Not that Nobilo is stunned.
“The guy’s the best in the business. Everybody knows that on both sides.”
And with Stricker lending solid support – making parts to allow Woods to be aggressive – well, it’s enabled the world’s best player to go 2-0 for the first time in his 11 team competitions of this variety.
“I think,” Nobilo said, “the fact that he and Stricker have played so much golf together . . . America has solved their magic bullet. They’ve found someone he doesn’t intimidate on the same side.”