Tiger Woods has changed his mind – he would accept a captain's pick to appear at Celtic Manor in the Ryder Cup in two months' time. As the tale of this falling idol became increasingly bizarre here yesterday, it was irresistible to speculate how different his life now would be if only he could have performed such a dramatic U-turn as he sped towards that fire hydrant nine months ago.
On Sunday it was “definitely not, not playing like this”, when asked if he would take a wild card off the US captain, Corey Pavin. Two days and absolutely no competitive golf later and the same question provoked an unequivocal “Yes.” So now it’s over to Pavin. When US qualifying ends here at the USPGA and he begins his three-week deliberation on his
chosen four, does he go with the
greatest golfer whose game has
seemingly unravelled as calamitously as his life?
It is a query Pavin will doubtless face when it is his turn to sit down with the press today. If he is picking purely on form, he is in a horrible position. How he must be praying Woods stays true to the statement he repeated over and over this time last weekend and which he only modified slightly yesterday. “I would like to play myself on to that team,” he said, replacing “plan” with “would like”.
In Akron as he struggled pitifully to a final-round 77 and the worst 72-hole finish of his 14-year professional career, it was impossible for anyone – including himself – to have any confidence in Woods securing here the top 10-placing he requires to give him a chance of qualifying by right. But now, he sounded a different creature. “It’s starting to feel a little better,” he said. “It’s starting to come around.”
A continuing case of self delusion? Or has he really found something here these last few days? The word has been that after being dumped by Hank Haney three months ago he has began working with a new coach in Sean Foley, who tutors, among others, Justin Rose and last week’s winner at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, Hunter Mahan. Woods denied the link-up was official but did confess it was a “possibility”. This is one new relationship he should confess to.
All Foley did for Woods in a practice round with Mahan yesterday was hold the video camera and assist him in taking a look at his swing. “That’s what we did and I’m heading in the right direction,” said Woods. If he is right – and most still roll their eyes in the absurdity of it all – then he’s taken his time in the comeback which began with a fourth place at the Masters in April. But while everyone else has witnessed a decline in these five remarkable months, he has actually seen an upturn in fortunes. “In life you just have to keep going forward and that’s what I’m doing now,” he said. “Life is certainly getting better.”
Woods was essentially talking about his family life, although as ever with the new Tiger the off-course inextricably linked with the on-course. Friends such as David Feherty have talked of the impending divorce “slamming doors in his head” which have caused destructive distraction to the most focused psyche in the history of game. It was something Woods felt obliged to address yesterday. “To be honest with you, with all that’s been going on I thought I would have been here, playing this poorly, a little bit sooner,” he said. “But somehow I was able to play a little bit better than I thought for a stretch. And then it finally caught up with me last week.”
While he might have been half-expecting that horror show at a course where he had previously won seven out of 10 times, nobody else was. His 18-over total for a tie for 78th in the 80-man field has led to a fresh burst of Tiger baiting in America. Said Jay Leno on The Tonight Show: “His sponsors Nike are changing their motto from “Just Do It” to “Just Get It Over With.”
In fact, many here believe that is exactly what he should do if and when it goes wrong for Woods at this, the season’s final major. He should put his clubs away and take a prolonged break, just as Sergio Garcia is planning. But no, Woods now wishes to play in the Ryder Cup and so the show carries on. If not for himself, then for his country. But this is an individual sport and starting tomorrow he will attempt to rescue the year and his ranking.
Phil Mickelson is still poised to usurp him as world No 1, although
Mickelson has had his own troubles. A few hours after Woods’ latest inquisition, the left-hander took the stage and revealed he has been suffering from psoriatic arthritis so acute that he awoke one morning at the US Open in June and felt he couldn’t walk. But there’s a fix for his pain – medication. The fix for Woods remains undiscovered.
Where are they playing?
* The Whistling Straits courses of Haven, Wisconsin, have been designed to replicate ancient seaside links courses in Ireland. Taking their name from the temperamental winds which sweep in off a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan, the courses feature vast rolling greens, deep bunkers and grassy dunes.
* The Straits course, one of two courses at the venue, will also host the PGA Championships in 2015 and the 2020 Ryder Cup. The course last hosted the PGA Championships in 2004.
* The total length of the Straits course is 7,514 yards, with a par of 72. The most difficult hole is seen to be the 17th, known as the "Pinched Nerve". At 223 yards, the hole boasts towering sand dunes and, with Lake Michigan to the left, has been termed the course's unofficial signature hole, as it leaves golfers with no option but to go for the green.