Tiger's hunger for redemption can expose Europe's hubris

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The Independent Online

There are several reasons to believe that at least some of the hubris surrounding the European team here is misplaced, but one of them is overwhelming. Because it is the biggest single factor in golf, and the most unchartable and uncontainable, it has to be set against the barrage of statistics which have persuaded Ian Woosnam's team that the bookmakers are right to make them rock-hard favourites. The point is that while Europe have four wins out of five, and a clear sense of moral superiority after the triumphalist shenanigans that disfigured America's only intervention in this tide of winning blue at Brookline seven years ago, they do not have Tiger Woods. Furthermore, they do not have a Tiger Woods who is smouldering under the weight of disdain.

It is a rare experience for the Tiger and there are clear signs that the perception that he can get neither his head, nor his game, around the special demands of the Ryder Cup, has concentrated his mind in a disturbingly intense way.

Disturbing, that is, for the European presumption that once again he will be a peripheral figure, restive to return to the game he knows better than anyone alive: the game of putting together four days of unbeatable proficiency at strokeplay, four days when every nuance of the course, and every weakness of a rival, is explored, so often without a hint of remit.

Four years ago at The Belfry, Woods persuaded many that he would never warm to the idea of submitting his astonishing individual prowess to the cause of a team. He agreed that the format of team matchplay was alien, as odd to his nature as requiring a Masai tribesman to train for the Olympic 20-kilometre walk, a discipline which would require him not to lift his heels, an unthinkable inhibition.

He said that there were a million reasons why he had thought it more important to win the preceding American Express tournament - a million dollars, that was. But then the years roll on and maybe the Tiger's view of sport has widened somewhat. Last week he attended the epoch-heralding victory of his new friend Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows. Last Sunday he saw Jose Mourinho's version of team sport. Here in the next few days there must be a suspicion that he will unveil his own - still suffused with his unique view on how to play the game, but newly committed on behalf of the Stars and Stripes.

Certainly the US captain, Tom Lehman, exulted in Luke Donald's shop-worn but freshly provocative recent statement that he suspected Woods, who had recently slaughtered him in the final round of the USPGA, would again fail to get up for the Ryder Cup.

Lehman made the unanswerable point that there was a fair body of evidence that if Woods truly set his mind to something it was reasonable to presume that he might just pull it off.

Another cause to doubt the easy assumptions of Europe is that their approach to the match has been almost comically inept. The Thomas Bjorn controversy was essentially pathetic, and Woosnam's handling of it had to be seen as all the more bizarre in that, two years ago in Oakland Hills, Michigan, his predecessor, Bernhard Langer, had delivered a masterclass in shrewd and dignified leadership.

This week Woosnam was saying that his lack of early decisions on the four-ball and foursome line-ups was partly predicated on the fact that his players were grown men. But then it is also true that grown men, perhaps even more than ungrown ones, tend to like to know what they are doing, and with whom they are doing it.

Colin Montgomerie, who has been known to walk down the path of hubris with disastrous consequences, particularly in the company of the Tiger, certainly deserves credit for his voice of caution this week when he said that the Americans may not be at all weakened by the presence of four rookies. They come, after all, from a hard school and, given some of the scorn they have received on their own side of the Atlantic, might sensibly be classed as hungry fighters.

The prevailing worry is that past achievements are being too easily translated into the belief that it is scarcely possible that Europe can lose. This ignores the fact that two years ago, when Europe won so easily, the Americans were led bullishly but chaotically by Hal Sutton. There were times when his most evident strategy was to wear a Stetson, a move which recalled the old north of England belief that if you can't fight you should wear a big hat. Sutton was a feisty performer out on the course, as was Woosnam, but as a captain he was cut to pieces by Langer. Lehman's preparation, his carefully pitched psychology, suggests that he may well reverse the process.

Of course, there is still a little time to go. Woosie might find his moment, and his inspiration, and it might just be that the Americans, weighed down by recent history, will submit again, especially if Montgomerie declares once more that this is his tournament, his best fighting ground. It is not the hunch here, however. The Tiger may well be about to sing his version of the Redemption Song, which of course would make an absolute nonsense of the odds.