Team player: Tiger back and things have changed

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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – For the first time in six years, Tiger Woods arrived at the Ryder Cup with his golf clubs.

No more earpieces.

No more two-way radios.

No more golf carts.

No longer relegated to the vice-captain position because of injury, Woods returns to his usual role this week as the most important American player.

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So much has changed since Woods’ last Ryder Cup appearance in 2012. His body has betrayed him. He’s endured humiliating performances on the course. He’s pondered a life without golf. But during all of that downtime, Woods has dedicated himself to an unexpected cause: team competitions. Criticized in the past for prioritizing individual over collective success, he’s played an integral role in blowing up the U.S. selection process as a member of the task force, then the Ryder Cup committee and finally as an assistant captain, in ’16.

“It was neat to be a part of the team, to be a part of helping the guys in any way I possibly could to make them feel comfortable,” Woods said, “but as a player, you focus on your playing partner you’re playing with and earning your point.”

As much as Rory McIlroy tried to downplay Woods’ influence by saying that he’s merely one of 12 here at Le Golf National, we all know better. Woods can only earn a maximum of five points for his team, but he’s worth so much more than that – capable of powering the U.S. to new heights with wins, while providing a boost to the Europeans if he falters.

This week will be a particularly intriguing moment in Woods’ career. No three players are as synonymous with U.S. futility in the Ryder Cup as Woods, Phil Mickelson and this year’s captain, Jim Furyk. Yet here they all stand, together, with a chance to end a quarter-century of misery on foreign soil. It’d be the perfect coda to Woods’ unimaginably resurgent season.

“Not having won as a player since 1999,” Woods said, “is something that hopefully we can change.”

It’ll start with Woods’ performance in the team sessions. Though his singles record is strong (4-1-2), he’s yet to find much success with a partner, going an abysmal 9-16-1 in fourballs and foursomes.

Gone is his usual match-play partner, Steve Stricker. In his place is a pair of 20-something dynamos, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau, who are sure to be wound tight while playing alongside their childhood idol.

Fortunately for them, Woods is playing his best golf in years. Last week at the Tour Championship, he not only won for the first time in five-plus years, but on Sunday he broke the spirit of Europe’s best players, leaving both Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose in the dust.

“It’s a nice boost for everyone, and I think for Tiger in general, it’s cool,” Furyk said. “But being a guy with his status and that number of wins, he can flip the page and turn his attention to this week. He’s trying to help this team as much as he can.”

There’s no reason to believe that his stellar play won’t continue here, as Le Golf National would seem an ideal fit for his revamped game. The tight, hazard-filled course will require few drivers off the tee, leaving Woods and everyone else to attack from virtually the same spots in the fairway. That plays exactly into Woods’ hands – he’s once again the best iron player on the planet.

What remains to be seen is how many matches Furyk will employ Woods. At 42 with a rebuilt body, Woods is no longer a lock to play all five matches, as he was in his prime. In seven career Ryder Cups, he’s played all but one of the team sessions – the only one he missed was at Medinah in 2012, when he said his back issues first started to surface.

But Woods’ improved health and brilliant play creates an interesting dilemma for Furyk: Can you really keep Woods on the bench for a team session if he’s one of the Americans’ best chances for a point? Or do you risk sending him out for all five matches, knowing that he’ll probably grow fatigued?

Of course, few could have envisioned this debate two years ago, as Woods zipped around in a golf cart, fetching sandwiches and extra towels for the players in his pod, his competitive future uncertain.

That’s not the case anymore.

He’s swapped out his walkie-talkie for a wedge.

With a new perspective and partner, maybe he’s ready for his best Ryder Cup performance ever.

Furyk: Reed, Tiger knew ‘weeks in advance’ they’d partner

AP
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One week after watching the Europeans celebrate at Le Golf National, Jim Furyk admitted that the sting of defeat still lingers from his stint as U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

“It’s been tough,” Furyk said. “I was the leader of that team, and it didn’t go the way we wanted. It’ll always bother me.”

Furyk sat down with Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte for a wide-ranging interview in the wake of a 17 1/2 to 10 1/2 defeat to Thomas Bjorn’s European squad last week in Paris. While topics included the demanding course setup and the underwhelming performances from Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, two captain’s picks who combined to go 0-6, Furyk also expanded on his decision to pair Woods with Patrick Reed in two fourball matches.

Reed seemingly lobbed a grenade at his teammates and captain in the wake of the American loss, explaining that it was Jordan Spieth’s idea to break up their formidable pairing from the past two Ryder Cups and calling the decision-making process a “buddy system” that excludes the input of some players.

But according to Furyk, Reed was in the loop on his pairing with Woods well in advance, all the way down to having a discussion with the captain about where exactly he’d like to be slotted among the four matches during Friday’s opening session.

“When I started looking at who (Tiger) would pair well with, I kept coming back to Patrick Reed,” Furyk said. “There was always the idea that we could go Tiger and JT (Justin Thomas), and Patrick and Jordan, but ultimately they knew going into the week, weeks in advance, they knew they would start the Ryder Cup with Patrick and Tiger being partners.”

Furyk also discussed the other piece of tabloid fodder to emerge after the tournament, that being an alleged incident between Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka on their final evening in Paris. Koepka denied the report last week at the Alfred Dunhill Links, and Furyk clearly refuted an additional report that anything happened on the team charter to France.

And while Furyk reiterated the close relationship between the two friends, he also seemed to imply that some sort of incident, however minor, did occur.

“Whatever altercation started, or what happened, it was very brief. It was very short. Neither one of them really took anything out of it,” Furyk said. “They’re like brothers. Brothers may argue, brothers get into it. But they’re as close as they’ve ever been, and it really had no effect on either one of them.”

Although Furyk admitted that the sound defeat his squad suffered has left him with a “hollow feeling,” he told Rosaforte that after 18 months of preparation for three days of matches, the only thing that surprised him was the final outcome for a team that he very much believed in – and still does.

“I’d take those 12 players into the fire any day, on any course. And I still would,” Furyk said. “Last week didn’t work out the way we wanted, but I love those guys and I love what we had together in the team room. And I’d do it all over again.”

Europe wins Ryder Cup; U.S. remain winless on European soil since 1993

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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – For the sixth straight time, Europe won the Ryder Cup on its home soil.

Captain’s Thomas Bjorn’s team topped the U.S., 17 1/2 to 10 1/2, on Sunday.

Francesco Molinari locked up the clinching point when Phil Mickelson hit his tee shot in the water at the par-3 16th and conceded the match to the Open champion, 4 and 2, while still on the tee.

The Americans remain winless on European soil since 1993. Europeans have now won seven of the last nine events, dating back to 2002.

Molinari became the first European player in history to go 5-0-0 in a Ryder Cup, as the senior leaders of the U.S. team, Mickelson and Tiger Woods, combined to go 0-6-0.

Sergio Garcia is now the all-time leader in Ryder Cup points won with 25 1/2, while Mickelson is now the all-time leader in matches lost with 22.

Here’s how all the matches played out this week at Le Golf National outside Paris:

TOTAL SCORE: EUROPE 17 1/2, U.S. 10 1/2 

Sunday singles: Europe 7 1/2, U.S. 4 1/2 

Match 17: Thomas (US) def. McIlroy (E), 1up
Incredible match from beginning to end. One of the best of the week. Thomas won the first hole, then McIlroy won the next three in a row. The match was square on the 18th tee, and McIlroy drove it into a fried-egg lie in a bunker. It didn’t end well for him. He ended up conceding to Thomas in the final fairway.

Match 18: Casey (E) vs. Koepka (US), halved
Hard to believe, but this was the first halved match of the Ryder Cup. Neither player was ever more than 1 up at any point and both played slightly better than average. Casey’s birdie on the 17th to square the match was as big a clutch moment as you can have.

Match 19: Simpson (US) def. Rose (E), 3 and 2
This was a bit of an upset but a point the U.S. had to have for momentum. Simpson lost his first match but quietly won his next two to become an unsung hero for an American team that desperately needed one. Rose seemed tired.

Match 20: Rahm (E) def. Woods (US), 2 and 1
Woods never led the match, although Rahm was never more than 2 up either. Woods appeared exhausted and unenthused. Rahm took advantage to earn his first Ryder Cup point in the grandest of fashions.

Match 21: Finau (US) def. Fleetwood (E), 6 and 4
Finau was an absolute monster in this match, and the previously undefeated Fleetwood couldn’t do much to combat him. Finau was 5 up after nine holes and never looked back. A great, great week for Finau, who will most assuredly make more Ryder Cups.

Match 22: Poulter (E) def. Johnson (US), 2 up 
Poulter turned into Poulter one more time against the world’s top-ranked player. Poulter was 2 up after four holes, but Johnson was up after 12. Poulter would have none of it. He birdied 14 and 15 to seize control, closing it out on 18.

Match 23: Olesen (E) def. Spieth (US), 5 and 4
Some things defy explanation, and Spieth now goes to 0-6 all-time in singles play for U.S. teams in the Presidents and Ryder cups. Olesen sat out all day on Saturday and came out steady against Spieth, who made only one birdie.

Match 24: Garcia (E) def. Fowler (US), 2 and 1
The full point made Garcia the top point earner in the history of the Ryder Cup, surpassing Nick Faldo. This match was fairly close, too, but Fowler never led at any point. The cup was determined before this was over, so it was icing on the European cake.

Match 25: Molinari (E) def. Mickelson (US), 4 and 2
When Mickelson dunked it in the water on the 16th hole, Molinari clinched the winning point for Europe and also went a perfect 5-0 for the week. Just an incredible week for The Open champion. Mickelson played poorly again and ended the week 0-2.

Match 26: Reed (US) def. Hatton (E), 3 and 2
Reed made up in part for poor performances the previous two days in a match that he won easily against an overmatched Hatton. Too bad for the Americans that the cup was decided well before this point.

Match 27: Stenson (E) def. Watson (US), 5 and 4
Watson remains winless in Ryder Cup singles matches and Stenson was 3 up after five holes. Again, this was not really particularly close and Watson struggles. Stenson birdies four of the first seven holes.

Match 28: Noren (E) def. DeChambeau (US), 1 up
This match went all the way 18 long after the matches have been decided. One down with one to play, DeChambeau flagged his approach to the final green, but Noren holed a lengthy birdie putt to end the matches and officially start the European celebration.

TOTAL SCORE: EUROPE 10, U.S. 6

Saturday afternoon foursomes: Europe 2, U.S. 2

Match 13: Rose-Stenson (E) def. Johnson-Koepka (US), 2 and 1
The closest match of the session, and it’s no surprise that it came down to Stenson making a 10-footer to save par on the 17th hole to win the match. Rose and Stenson continue to roll when paired together while Johnson and Koepka couldn’t recapture magic of the past.

Match 14: Watson-Simpson (US) def. Garcia-Noren (E), 3 and 2
This was a questionable foursomes lineup for the U.S. and it turns out it was their best duo. Garcia and Noren slapped it around in average fashion, as Watson and Simpson went 4 up through eight and easily hold on.

Match 15: Molinari-Fleetwood (E) def. Woods-DeChambeau, 5 and 4
This was a clinic from the very beginning, and the victory gave the European team a perfect 4-0 record together this week. Both played great and never allowed any openings for the Americans. On the other hand, Woods (0-3) and DeChambeau (0-2) played awful and are both winless on the week.

Match 16: Spieth-Thomas (US) def. Poulter-McIlroy (E), 4 and 3
Poulter and McIlroy looked like they both finally ran out of gas. They didn’t provide much of a fight for Spieth and Thomas, particularly down the stretch. The Americans were only 1 up after seven but appeared in control and were 4 up after 13.

TOTAL SCORE: EUROPE 8, U.S. 4

Saturday morning fourballs: Europe 3, U.S. 1

Match 9: Garcia-McIlroy (E) def. Koepka-Finau (US), 2 and 1
Garcia and McIlroy were putting demons, making everything they needed to make. They were 4 up after 13, they lost the next three holes in a row, and then Garcia sealed it with a monster birdie putt on the 17th. They were a combined 7 under par.

Match 10: Casey-Hatton (E) def. Johnson-Fowler (US), 3 and 2
The Americans didn’t do anything spectacular and honestly they were lucky to take the match as deep as they did. The Europeans were a combined 9 under, and there’s just nothing you can do with that kind of display. Casey’s putter was on fire.

Match 11: Molinari-Fleetwood (E) def. Woods-Reed (US), 4 and 3
A thumping of epic proportions. Reed played as poorly as anyone has ever played in the Ryder Cup. Ever. Woods kept them in the match until European putters heated up again, winning four of the last five holes. This Euro duo is now 3-0 together.

Match 12: Spieth-Thomas (US) def. Poulter-Rahm (E), 2 and 1
The only bright spot for the Americans in the session, and they had to fight for it. Rahm and Poulter weren’t on top form, and Spieth and Thomas combined for 10 birdies, including a huge one on the 17th that kept the match from going the full way.