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Jay Busbee

Steve Stricker-Tiger Woods pairing could be the Ryder key

Jay Busbee
Devil Ball Golf

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The most important player on either side of the Ryder Cup might just be one of the most anonymous.

All eyes will be on Tiger Woods this weekend, but it's possible that the guy who's come within a few strokes of knocking him off his No. 1 perch will be far more important to the final standings. Steve Stricker, insanely talented yet ridiculously low-key, might be the guy who can take Tiger from match-play question mark to multi-win certainty.

Stricker is the perfect foil for Tiger, calm where Woods is demonstrative, steady where Woods is erratic (especially this year). At last year's Presidents Cup, the pairing dominated, going 4-0 when matched together. (Woods was 5-0 overall, continuing what we thought at the time was a complete career renaissance.)

But Woods hasn't had the same kind of success in Ryder Cup play; he's only 7-12-1. Now, that's a wretched record on its face, but match play is far different from stroke play, so it's understandable that Woods could have a bit more trouble when the score resets after every hole than when he can carry over strokes and bulldoze his opponents.

As Rex Hoggard notes over at the Golf Channel, Woods has played in 11 Ryder and Presidents Cups, and has had 17 different partners. (Let the easy jokes go right on past, friends.) He's played with many more than once, and during that time, only four of them -- Stricker, Jim Furyk, Davis Love III and Charles Howell III -- have posted winning records. That's not good news.

Why does everybody fall apart when playing with Woods? Think about it. The guy draws more attention -- and thus more pressure -- than almost any athlete on the planet. When you play with him, you want to play well; you need to play well.

But for whatever reason, that pressure doesn't get to Stricker. He's go-along-to-get-along, as pleasantly routine as a Midwestern county fair. That makes him the perfect playing companion for Woods ... and it's why the two might just be the pair to beat this weekend.

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