Friday, September 29, 2006

You've Got To Like Sergio

After Tiger Woods fired an opening round, 8-under par 63 to lead the American Express Championship in Chandler’s Cross, England, he got a little defensive about his Ryder Cup performance. He pointed out that if the event had been individual stroke play for five rounds, he would have finished no worse the 15th.

WOW! Fifteenth out of, what, 24? For the world’s best golfer, competing against a field that was nowhere close to including the overall top 24 in the world, 15th would be dismal. But, he defended his performance.

“I only had one bad day, which was Saturday morning,” he said. “Other than that, I actually played pretty darn good. I’m only in control of five points, and I got three of five. I did the best I could. I could have holed more putts, certainly, but overall, I thought I played pretty solid.”

While I would never boot Tiger from my Ryder Cup team, his point total combined serious play and lots of grinding. His on-the-course personality is always stoic, unlike that of European cheerleader Sergio Garcia. While the latter’s fun-loving, have-a-good-time-demeanor is contagious, Woods’ staid approach to competition doesn’t encourage his partners to join in the fun of good play and winning. Even when he makes a spectacular putt and shows us his fist pump, he’s all business, and being all business seems to spread to his teammates. The only benefit I see to that is to the Euros because when Ryder Cup competition is all business and no play, the United States team gets tight and misses opportunities to take control and command.

To his credit, Woods wants for younger Americans to step up and qualify for the Ryder Cup in two years. He wants the same type of enthusiasm Garcia shows to be ingrained in the Americans. Unfortunately, what Tiger doesn’t get is that he, as the best player on the team, can be the catalyst for fun on the links, the example for his teammates, but that’s just not his style.

Speaking of Garcia, while some people do not like his smugness and temper tantrum style especially when he’s actually losing a hole in Ryder Cup competition, he does have an impressive record in the once-every-two-years event. He’s 14-4-2 overall, 13-1-2 in team events including 8-0 in alternate shot. If you do the math, (I’ll do it for you anyway), you’ll see he’s just 1-3 in singles matches.

And, he has never won a Major golf tournament, not a Masters, a US Open, a (British) Open, or a PGA Championship. This is most recently pointed out in a column by Bob Harig of the St. Petersburg (FL) Times, who asks the question, “Why is Garcia so good in the Ryder Cup and so shaky in the game’s biggest individual tournaments?”

Harig never answers the question, but he has an interesting quote from Garcia: “I can’t live without it (Ryder Cup). It makes for an unbelievable week. It is special because it is difficult to get into the team. Winning is definitely more satisfying than winning an individual event. The more fun I have, the better I play. My swing is looser. My thoughts are better.”

In his column, Harig comments: “Garcia’s infectious enthusiasm rubs off, although it still is a mystery why this kind of play does not translate into majors. As much as the Europeans like to indict American golf because of the Ryder Cup, the fact remains that they have not won a major since 1999. And golf, after all, is an individual sport, one that turns into a team affair on rare occasions.”

That last comment, Mr. Harig, is one with which I respectfully disagree. I’d say with the exception of the professional tours, most golfers play team, match-play competition 99% of the time. Member-Member tournaments; Member-Guest events; Superball/Captain’s Choice charity events; even the Saturday morning scrambles pitting one foursome against another; and, within the foursomes, there are various competitions two of which are six-six-six and Nassau. Every day, thousands and thousands of golfers compete in team competition, and usually it’s match-play. That’s why the regular-guy golfer out there gets upset when the United States professionals are just doing their job and stinking-up the Ryder Cup.

Let’s face it. Tiger Woods is an excellent player. And who am I to say something so obvious? But, he’s a grinder who enjoys the soft core team bets at Isleworth Country Club but is a better competitor when it’s just Tiger against the world over four straight days of individual, stroke play.

While I’m not a Sergio faithful, I do enjoy watching him play golf. He takes it just serious enough to compete at a high level despite his lack of a Major championship. However, in reality, it seems he’s always just enjoying a good walk, not one spoiled.

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