Golf: Woods is primed to put record straight

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TIGER WOODS, the world's No 1 golfer, may be a little shaky on the history of the Ryder Cup, as he was when suggesting Jack Nicklaus had a losing record when he won 17 of his 28 matches in the competition. But to help the Americans win the event for the first time in six years, Woods is determined to do something about his own record of one and a half points from five matches on his debut at Valderrama two years ago.

"I wasn't playing well in the second half of 1997 and unfortunately it carried over into that Ryder Cup," Woods said. "I didn't hit the shots at the right time and I didn't make the putts. But this year I'm coming into the tournament with more of a positive attitude and rightfully so after playing well this summer."

Woods has won six times this season, including a second major title at the USPGA last month. "I love matchplay but over 18 holes all it takes is one shot here and there, especially on the back nine, and holing putts at the crucial time," Woods added. "That's what the Europeans did better in '97. I don't feel we lost it, they beat us. But I don't see how that makes us less passionate than they are."

Being at the Country Club of Brookline, where he will attempt to drive the short par-fours at the fourth and sixth holes if the wind directions allows, is a relief for Woods after playing in, and losing, an Eisenhower Trophy in France, a Walker Cup in Wales, a Ryder Cup in Spain and a Presidents Cup in Australia. "It will be nice to have some fans cheering for us and not hearing boos all day," Woods said.

But, despite the rain yesterday, Sergio Garcia, the 19-year-old Spaniard, was an equal attraction for the 30,000 gallery in practice and the Europeans have so far received as warm a welcome as at Oak Hill four years ago. "There was a great atmosphere," Lee Westwood said. "There has been no hostility from anybody."

Apart from Jose Maria Olazabal's intense sessions with the veteran coach John Jacobs on the practice range, there is a relaxed atmosphere in the visitors' camp. The party line is that the pressure is on the home team but Westwood did manage a slightly barbed rebuke to Jeff Maggert.

"They must be under pressure being the 12 best players in the world, according to themselves," Westwood said. "It is nice being the underdogs. There is great expectation on them to win and the pressure is building, I'd imagine."

With one last practice session remaining today, the European captain, Mark James, yesterday split up Westwood and Darren Clarke. More significant, perhaps, was that he kept together for the second day running the partnerships of Colin Montgomerie and the Open champion, Paul Lawrie, Garcia and Jesper Parnevik, and Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Europe, as the visitors, have the honour on the first tee for the opening foursomes tomorrow and James will have to think hard about his lead pairing. Four years ago Montgomerie hit the opening drive and called it the most pressurised shot he had ever faced, while Olazabal had the dubious honour in 1991. "The only thing that stands still is the shaft of the club before you take it out of the bag," Ollie recalled. "The rest, everything shakes, hands, legs, absolutely everything."

With seven rookies in the team, some of the newcomers are aware they may not be playing a lot of golf before Sunday's singles. "This is going to be a team effort and regardless of how many times you play, you still have to support and be there for the team," Padraig Harrington said.

Jean Van de Velde added: "It doesn't matter if you play five times, or three times or once, your contribution to the team is important." After twice having his clubs lost on his previous trips to the States, Van de Velde secured a space for his bag on Concorde on Monday but he decided to go on a tour of Boston with his family that afternoon.

"It is important for me to feel comfortable and see a bit of the place I'm in and Monday was the only chance," the Frenchman said. "To be the first from my country to play in the Ryder Cup is fantastic. It's a privilege and an honour but also if the people at home understand the game, and the spirit of it, a little better that's something tremendous. I'm going to cherish every moment this week, every detail, and keep it at the back of my mind and have it for the rest of my life."

As the man who threw away a three-shot lead on the last at the Open, how Van de Velde handles the pressure this week will be intriguing. "Everyone is going to feel pressure, even Tiger," he said. "It's still going to be a golf game. You have to keep your head on your shoulders and respond to all the devils in your mind. Carnoustie is not something you can forget. Maybe I need to see a shrink but I haven't lost my head since. I'm doing all right."