Woods, Stricker continue to roll at Ryder Cup
NEWPORT, Wales – It is the sort of dynamic partnership that America has always conceded to Europe, with captains clad in red, white, and blue seemingly determined to prove there was great team depth that lent itself to a wide variety of pairings.
That in his first five Ryder Cup appearances Tiger Woods had 11 different partners was always a tad disconcerting to him, though a captain would always explain that it was a way of spreading the wealth. The theory seemed to be that the world’s No. 1 could make any team a formidable foe, but with a team record of 7-12-1 it hardly played out that way.
Enter the 2009 Presidents Cup and the laid-back, low-stress captaincy of Fred Couples. “Who do you want?” he asked Woods. “Steve Stricker,” said Woods.
Four impressive wins that required just 63 holes pretty much led folks to ask, “What was so hard about that?”
The answer: Nothing.
Ryder Cup: Europe rallies back
Team Europe made a charge before Ryder Cup play was suspended on Saturday.
All it took was a captain to employ common sense and not try and overthink the situation. It was a blueprint carried forth by Corey Pavin for these 38th Ryder Cup matches because what appeared to be a foregone conclusion came through, with Woods and Stricker a team once again.
Of course, the curse of being Woods – especially this year, given how much ammunition he has provided – is that your play is examined beneath a far more intensive microscope than others.
Certainly, that will be amplified given the way a long, long day of golf ended Saturday, with Woods and Stricker 4 down through nine holes in a foursomes match against Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
When darkness finally fell at the Celtic Manor, neither Woods nor Stricker had played well in the third-session match, a total reversal of the way things had gone in a pair of victories earlier in the day.
Turning things around against a team as impressive as Donald and Westwood is a massive challenge. It will require the sort of foursomes effort (seven birdies, two bogeys) that Woods and Stricker employed during a foursomes triumph earlier in the day.
Of course, what got the day off to a start was the resumption of a four-ball match alongside Stricker. You might hear suggestions that Woods played poorly in that match against Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher; it was a 2-up triumph that many will assign to Stricker’s birdie-birdie start in Saturday’s eight-hole conclusion to a match that had begun in Friday’s miserable rain.
That, however, would not be totally accurate. Truth is, Woods had been the horse in Friday’s junk, with a birdie at the second, a clutch par-save at the fourth, then a steady series of pars before another birdie at the eighth put the Americans 1 up. Even when Poulter made a birdie at the ninth as the curtain closed, “we felt we had the momentum,” Stricker said.
His birdie on the first hole of the re-start, the par 5 11th, matched Fisher’s, then came the key moment, at the par 4 12th. Short left of the green, Stricker hit a brilliant pitch to a hole cut on top of a knob, so brilliant, in fact, that it took one hop, struck the flagstick and fell in.
No wonder Woods could smile and concede “that it’s always great to play with Stricks.”
That comfort understood, it doesn’t quite explain the bizarre way in which the par 4 14th unfolded. Nursing a 1-up lead, the Americans had the honors and immediately made things uneasy when Woods pushed his drive right and into water. The fact that Poulter found water right and Fisher pulled his drive into thick rough gave Stricker’s fairway-splitting tee ball the advantage.
The only thing is, after navigating water right with your drive, you have a second shot of nearly 200 yards with water left and deep, dastardly bunkers right. That is why Woods’ decision not to take a drop and put a second ball in play was a curious one.
Stricker explained that Woods was going to wait and see how things with the second shot before deciding whether to take a drop or not. As it turns out, he didn’t have to – although Stricker concedes it made things nerve-racking.
“It’s a hard hole. I’m up there in the fairway and the last thing I want to do is hit it in the water. So I put it over there in the bunker where it’s a hard bunker shot,” Stricker said.
“But I don’t know where else (to hit it). I wanted to turn it in there, but at the last minute I said, ‘Nope, I’m not going to do it.’ ”
Still, Stricker’s safe play was easily explained because with a tee ball in the water, Poulter was more than likely going to make double-bogey and when Fisher hit a pitch out of the deep rough and nearly shanked it into the water across the fairway, he, too, was going to be hard-pressed to make par.
Turns out, Fisher did bogey the hole to match Stricker’s, so the Americans remained 1 up. It was a lead they maintained, but not all the credit is attached to Stricker. Yes, he did drive the green at the short, par 4 15th and two-putted to match Fisher’s birdie, but it’s not like Woods wasn’t pulling his load.
At the par 4 16th, Woods handled the beefy 499 yards with great ease, pounding a drive down the left side, then making brilliant contact to hoist an approach to 18 feet. Though he missed the birdie try, Woods had kept his team ahead, then he did likewise at the 211 yard, par 3 17th with a sterling shot to 15 feet.
Did that morning match end with another Stricker birdie – his fourth in eight holes after the resumption? Indeed it did, but let the record show it was a conceded one after both Europeans missed birdie putts and Stricker had but 6 feet for birdie.
Woods and Stricker had played that 575 yard, par 5 18th in classic four-ball style – the man of precision (Stricker) going fairway, lay-up, short iron; the man of power hitting a long drive, then taking on the green. No, Woods did not pull it off at 18; he was wide left.
That was evidence to some that he was off his game, but please. Woods contributed positively to that four-ball triumph and he was even more in rhythm during a second-session foursomes match as he and Stricker went 5 under to trounce Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez, 4 and 3.
Yes, it stretched their international team competition record to 6-0 as a team and you don’t achieve such a mark by one of the partners – in this case, Woods – just going along for the walk.
OK, except for that 14th hole in the four-ball phase.