MEDINAH, Ill. – There is a golf tournament in which Tiger Woods is not very good. Average, really, and it's a major, bigger than any of the actual majors, if you ask some.
In the same 13-year-span in which Woods won 14 major championships, more than 60 tournaments in all and earned his spot as the fiercest competitor on the planet, he posted a pedestrian 13-14-2 record in Ryder Cup play, the biennial USA vs. Europe showdown.
Despite being the world's No. 1 player for most of the 2000s, Woods has been a part of only one winning Ryder Cup team, way back in 1999. The only United States team to win in the new millennium is the '08 squad that didn't feature Woods, who missed out due to injury.
And so it is with the latest rendition of the intercontinental classic kicking up again, with Europe having won six of the last eight, that Woods' Ryder Cup record takes on added scrutiny. For as great a player as he's been on his own, the one thing he can't say is that he has helped his country conquer the world.
"I am responsible for that, because I didn't earn the points that I was put out there for," Woods said Tuesday when asked by Yahoo! Sports if he bears responsibility for the poor U.S. showing over the last decade. "I believe I was out there, what, in five sessions each time, and I didn't go 5-0 on our side. So I am certainly a part of that, and that's part of being a team. I needed to go get my points for my team and I didn't do that."
Not that it's entirely his fault.
When it comes to Ryder Cup play, there is a curse to having Tiger Woods on your team: someone has to play with him. That means dealing with all that comes with being in Tiger Woods' shoes – the crowds, the noise, the TV cameras, the media scrutiny, the expectations, all of which adds up to a heap of pressure that, added on top of the already mountain of pressure the Ryder Cup produces, can cause even the greatest players to wilt, if only just a little.
Woods is 4-1-1 in individual play, 9-13-1 in group play. This isn't to put blame on his playing partners, but rather to point out that playing with Tiger Woods as a teammate presents a different reality than most people are accustomed to living in.
"If there's five [media] people inside the ropes watching me play, there's 50 watching Tiger," explained U.S. team captain Davis Love III, who was paired with Woods three times in Ryder Cup play. "You have to be a special guy to be able to handle that."
The expectation is that "special guy" this year will once again be Steve Stricker, who appeared comfortable playing in Woods' bubble en route to a 2-1 record with him in 2010.
Whoever it is, though, will ultimately be a footnote. Because when you're Tiger Woods, the greatest athlete this side of Michael Jordan, the responsibility ultimately falls on you.
While it's hard to believe his leadership still carries the weight it once did – and really, what good did that leadership do them before? – Woods still remains the U.S.'s best player despite all he's been through since Thanksgiving, 2009. He'll play at least four matches in this Ryder Cup, probably five, and if he comes away with a losing record it will be a difficult tow for the Americans facing a European squad that features four of the top five players in the world.
Now, as Tiger enters the second-half of his career, an era in which he still hasn't won a major and continues to rehab a reputation that will likely never be repaired in many people's eyes, the Ryder Cup presents an opportunity for him to make some good. For this is an event not for the individual, but for the team, the country, the flag. What better place for the sport's most selfish player to give something back and finally show that in all things the one thing he isn't is average.
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