Tiger swaps lone instincts for team spirit

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The Independent Online

The reinvention of "Tiger Woods, great individual" to "Tiger Woods, team player" advanced several ominous stages yesterday when the world No 1 revealed he would be joining the rest of the American Ryder Cup players at next week's bonding session in Co Kildare.

It had been assumed by all - including, it must be said, his own captain, Tom Lehman - that "prior engagements" would result in the world No 1 missing the unprecedented trip to the venue of next month's biennial tear-up, along with Phil Mickelson.

But both stunned the golfing world at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron by declaring they had ripped up their usually sacred schedules to play a full and active part in the three-day mission that will leave Ohio on a private jet tomorrow straight after the denouement of the WGC event.

"Yep, I'm going - we're all going," Woods said. "I've had to reschedule a couple of things. I've seen the K Club before, so this is just to be with the guys. We are going there as a team - hang out, relax, play some golf."

The news was so unexpected not just because of the charity dinner on Tuesday that he had previously maintained he had to attend. Usually, Woods will not leave his own shores for anything but a few million dollars and he has always appeared strangely indifferent to the Ryder Cup. Recently, however, he has been making more positive noises and this about-turn will be a cause of great celebration for Lehman. At his team announcement last Monday, he leapt to the defence of Woods, warning he would "go crazy if anyone ever dares question his commitment again".

Yesterday, Lehman was somewhat less impassioned, bearing the look of the vindicated as well of that of the captain whose best-laid plans were at last coming together. "This trip will be worth its weight in gold," he said. "Guys have families and plans and they alter them. The bottom line is that it's a sacrifice. Now every one of my players is going to know that they're paying the price, committing and doing the right thing as a team."

But while it was good news for Lehman, it was palpably not for Irish golf fans. Up until Woods and Mickelson - who simply said "I'm going, too" - signed up, it was believed that the K Club's gates would be open on Monday and Tuesday, but now, with security fears inevitably raised, they have been banged shut. The Americans will play behind closed doors.

Paul McGinley was wishing he could do just that after Thursday's first round in Akron when he stumbled to a 77 which left him 14 off the pace set by Australia's Adam Scott.

What made it worse was that Woods was his playing partner and that he shot a 67 as he aimed for his fourth tournament victory on the bounce. McGinley is still not assured of his own Ryder berth and may have to sweat it out at Europe's last qualifying event next week in Munich.

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