Tiger Woods falls in Ryder Cup return, but health shouldn't be in question

Tiger Woods falls in Ryder Cup return, but health shouldn't be in question

2018 Ryder Cup

Tiger Woods falls in Ryder Cup return, but health shouldn't be in question

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The trip from East Lake to Paris was much shorter than Tiger Woods’ season-long path to victory at the Tour Championship, but it seemed to take a toll.

Paired with Patrick Reed and eventually given the chance to secure an American four-ball sweep to kick off the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National, Woods looked like he was running on empty down the stretch.

He only managed to find about half the fairways off the tee and the irons weren’t nearly as sharp as they’ve been over the past month. So that’s why some are now questioning his health just five days after a vintage performance in Atlanta.

From up close, it looked like a combination of fatigue and an off morning, in a format that’s never been his strong suit. It’s been 12 years since Woods’ last four-ball win at the Ryder Cup and the drought continued with a loss to Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari, 2 and 1.

There are plenty of reasons things didn’t go Woods’ way. Whenever he has an off day on the course there’s a race to explain it, and given his medical history health always comes up in the discussion. Winning his last tournament of the season suggests he feels just fine, and he spoke confidently after the loss.

“I’m not going to work on anything. My game is fine,” Woods said. “My cut really wasn’t cutting off the tee today. I was hammering it. The ball was going far, it was going straight, but it was not cutting. I can accept that. That’s really no big deal. My putting feels solid. I’ll be ready come tomorrow whenever captain puts me out.”

While Woods did have his moments early, that doesn’t quite match up with his on-course demeanor. He looked frustrated with himself for much of the round on a course that doesn’t play to his strengths of late.

He putted really well on East Lake’s speedy greens and knew adjusting to the slower surfaces here would be key.

He also didn’t have many opportunities to hit driver, which has become a serious weapon again in recent weeks.  He swung the driver well again when given the chance but only hit four or five of them, and he missed the fairway more often with irons and fairway woods.

Vice-captain David Duval walked with Woods and Reed for much of the match, joining a large inside-the-ropes contingency including long-time friend and business partner Rob McNamara, the Reed clan led by wife Justine and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who blended in wearing an official U.S. Ryder Cup jacket and walked all 17 holes with the group.

Other vice-captains and head man Jim Furyk popped in and out and saw what became apparent even when the score didn’t reflect it – the group was cruising along but there wasn’t much spark there. Initially it seemed Woods and Reed were set to play two matches Friday, but they went to the bench for the afternoon foursomes.

The crowd was into it from the start and cheered loudly for missed putts and bad approach shots from the U.S. duo, a practice supposedly reserved for stateside matches. They went absolutely insane when Tommy Fleetwood drained his second straight birdie putt, at 16, to go dormie with two to play.

Woods pointed to four birdies on the front nine as a positive sign, but he didn’t have to putt out a few of them and couldn’t generate any momentum over the final seven holes. Four-day tournaments allow Woods to string pars together before making a move.

Four-ball doesn’t work like that and Woods needs to hit fairways with more consistency assuming he gets the nod for Saturday morning.

Will he get the chance to play with Reed again?

Woods teamed up with Reed for all three practice rounds and it’s been in the works for a month or two. They were in a pod of sorts with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who hung on to beat Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton, 1 up.

Depending on how Spieth and Thomas play in afternoon foursomes, Furyk could always pair Woods with Thomas on Saturday and bring back the proven Reed-Spieth group.

For now, Reed and Woods probably deserve another crack at it. They won’t succumb to any sort of pressure and could handle the anchor position again. Whether or not he’d admit it, an afternoon off was probably the best thing for Woods.

That won’t lessen the sting from a gut-punch loss as Woods got a rude Ryder Cup welcoming from the European faithful.

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