MEDINAH, Ill. – Tiger Woods survived the potential humiliation of being benched for the first time in his Ryder Cup career despite a dismal showing on the opening morning.
Woods was in dreadful form as he and foursomes partner Steve Stricker were defeated 2 and 1 by Europe's Justin Rose and Ian Poulter on Friday morning, prompting speculation from commentators and the gallery that U.S. team captain Davis Love III would sit him out of the afternoon session.
The 14-time major champion had played every possible match in his previous six Ryder Cup appearances despite a winning percentage of less than .500; he was 13-14-2 heading into this event. Yet never had he showed form as bad as this, shanking and pulling several drives into the assorted Medinah foliage.
However, Love, who insisted before the competition that he would leave it up to Woods to decide how regularly he wanted to play, resisted the temptation to sit him for the fourballs round on Friday afternoon, where they'll face Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts.
"Tiger is pretty easy," Love said earlier in the week. "I just ask him if he wants to play three, four or five matches, and there's a lot of guys that want to play with him."
Instead of benching the pairing of Woods and Stricker, who in one seven-hole stretch posted four bogies and two birdies, Love ditched the winning combination of rookie Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, who beat Lee Westwood and Francisco Molinari 3 and 2 and reveled in the hometown support.
Along with Sergio Garcia, who was totally out of sorts for the European team, Woods was perhaps the weakest player on the course during the morning session. The yips started on Hole 1, when Woods yanked his first swing into the trees on the left, leaving Stricker with a lie near the entrance to the Ted Ray Village hospitality tent. At that point, Woods became a course marshal, first shuffling the crowd back behind the entrance to the hospitality tent, then past its outside edge and finally a tree.
Ironically, one of his worst mishaps kept his pairings alive in their match, when his drive on the 15th was 30 feet off course, only to clank into a tree and bounce back toward the green. Alas, it was nowhere near enough for him and Stricker to stave off impending defeat.
Rose and Poulter were not at their best, but showed slightly more consistency to record a relatively comfortable win.
Woods has fond memories at Medinah Country Club, having won two PGA Championships here in 1999 and 2006, but was unable to piece his swing together Friday morning, much to his obvious frustration. Many thought it would effectively force Love's hand and lead to the previously unthinkable situation of arguably the greatest player in history being rested while his teammates went out to wage afternoon battle.
It would have been a bold step for Love to axe him, but given Woods' desperate form, sending him back into the fray may be an even bolder one.
The morning foursomes ended tied at 2-2, with Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell edging out a late comeback from Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker, and Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley beating up on Garcia and Luke Donald.
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