Nick Townsend at The Ryder Cup: Tiger the team game convert is still struggling with this buddy concept

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The Independent Online

Did you hear the one about the fellow, described as "merry", who appreared at Dublin District Court? Having already disrupted proceedings, he impudently retorted when his trial date was set: "Thanks, Judge, I'm off to watch the Ryder Cup." Judge Joseph Mangan was not having that. He held the man in contempt and jailed him, immediately, for seven days. We are told the decision brought shocked gasps from lawyers, gardai and defendants alike.

To deprive a man of his liberty is one thing; to do so on the Friday of the Ryder Cup must come close to inhumane treatment on this weekend of all; one in which Ireland luxuriates in its position in the centre of the sporting galaxy.

It is an occasion when George Bush senior arrives to support the troops, and the word was whispered among stewards yesterday morning: "Clinton's in tomorrow." Just to ensure everything was politically all square, presumably. And there's Michael Jordan on the eighth, one of Tiger Woods' entourage. You wouldn't want to get stuck behind him when you're attempting to glimpse a view of the green, now would you?

Friday had been a so-so day for Woods, from the moment there was that light splash in the creek, as the visitors would describe it. On a normal quiet day, first thing, it could have been a trout. It was actually a watery graveyard for Woods' first drive. The world No 1 pursed his lips and glared in that way that he does, a kind of laser-driven facial curse that you would not want to intercept. Someone enterprising should retrieve that ball. Worth a few Euros. Could it be the ball that began the sinking of USS Expectancy?

The Europe rookie Robert Karlsson admitted he had been heartened by that Woods aberration on the first. "For me, it actually lifted a bit of the pressure. Ifhe can do that, it's not too bad." In the event, Woods' partner Jim Furyk salvaged that hole for the United States. Woods' demeanour barely improved.

Yesterday morning began in the same way. One down after four holes to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood; two down after five, three down after the 11th. But, hey, Tiger, remember what you told us in London a few days ago on your arrival about how you've learnt to love the Ryder Cup?

"In a team environment, if you are in hot form as an individual you can still lose. But it's always nice to have a partner who's going to pick you up. It's totally different, but the satisfaction level is so much greater."

Satisfaction, huh? That didn't look like the word for it on that first day. Woods reminded you more of the TV reporter, Colin Baker, outside a court in that famous television out-take: Cold. Wet. Dreadfully wet. Still disgusted by photographs purporting to be wife topless in Dublin magazine. One down in the fourballs.

For the Tiger, the Ryder Cup still appears to be a strange, alien environment; as if the peripheries of these fairways contain predators waiting to pounce.

Who knows what the remainder of the weekend will bring, and particularly in today's singles, but once again the event has demonstrated its capacity to summon greatness from those who as individuals can be inhibited by mental shackles; and its power to diminish potency in the great.

It is not just about your comrade in arms over 18 holes. It's about how you react within a team of 12 good men and true, even if, during the first two days, four at any one time are restricted to the dug-out. Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and Paul McGinley certainly ascend to that challenge. As the Spaniard says: "I get so pumped for this. I've always enjoyed playing team events, like soccer. Anything that brings a team together. I sit down at the start of a Ryder Cup, and say, 'OK, I want to be in there. I've got to get on the team. What do I have to do'?"

There was a similar display of desire from the United States rookie Zach Johnson, whom coach Tom Lehman had not thrust into the fray until Friday afternoon. "I really didn't care who we were playing. I mean I'm excited Chad and I are going out. We're excited to get out there and start competing. It's kind of frustrating sitting on the bench, but, you know, it's a team game and that's the way it goes."

Finishing all square with the two "Dubs" Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, who didn't have to walk the fairways because they were carried aloft by the sheer flaming fervour of the spectators, was, in the context of the day, a valuable half-point.

So, the hosts began yesterday with a strong advantage, and not just in points. Yet it's a curious cause for which those points are so painstakingly and proudly accumulated. The reality is, of course, that many visitors here are supporting individual nations, and primarily Ireland. If Europe triumph this evening, it will be a home win, an Irish united victory, on Irish soil. And never will England and Wales and Scotland be allowed to forget it.

The Scots would try. As always, they have made their presence felt here. Colin Montgomerie's supporters are kitted out, or in the case of many of them, kilted out, in their national colours. It makes a fascinating scene: a group clad in tartan headgear mingling with flag-bearing Spaniards roaring on two Irishmen to, well, do it for Europe.

But in a sense, that question of identity is of no importance. Rationale does not enter the equation; not when the event has developed into such a financial monster after those years when it lost money and interest in it appeared to wane.

You just wonder what its founder, Samuel Ryder, would have made of the vast commercial vehicle it has become. What would he have made of the biennial fashion display of kitsch from both teams. Boy Scout America, this year's visiting team appeared on their arrival. Europe beat that with phosphorous green Hi De Hi jackets at the opening ceremony.

On the Thursday, we had everything bar Riverdance as the organisers sated those visitors from across the pond who demanded something stereotypical of Ireland. The home supporters wanted nothing more than the aqua-drama of the holes adjacent to river, streams or lake. On the Friday they were rewarded.

When the recently bereaved Darren Clarke hit the fairways, we had a passion play. At the end of the round on Friday, the Ulsterman was hugged by everyone; his partner Lee Westwood, his opponents, Phil Mickelson and Chris Di Marco. Woosie was there somewhere. They were instinctive gestures, and genuinely heart-warming to witness, and if it didn't quite bring water to the eye of a man who looks perpetually like he is on the brink of tears anyway, it produced a shiver down the back of the neck in the rest of us.

Elsewhere, hugs were becoming a habit. George Bush was photographed embracing Mickelson's wife, Amy. It had become the Loving Cup, and it was running over with sentiment and schmaltz.

But that is one side-effect of team play. It's about unashamed tribalism. It's about looking out for your partners, your buddies, your mates. Spectators love it. Most players do, too.

The world's No 1, you feel, despite all his protestations to the contrary, is still learning to love the bond.