Another target

Martin Rogers

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Ranking points, FedEx Cup points, Tour money, scoring average, etc. etc., etc. The list of numerical nuances that the 21st century golf fan has to get his head around seems endless.

But where does it leave us at a tournament such as the Target World Challenge?

This event, boasting half of the top 20 players on the planet and hosted by Tiger Woods, doesn't carry a single rankings point. The only thing being fed this week is the patrons' bellies.

Sure there's money, lots of it, but it won't count toward any list. In Woods' case, it won't even find its way into his bulging bank account, as he has pledged to donate his entire earnings to his charity foundation.

Again, what does it all mean?

For a displaced Englishman who has somehow had the fortune to swap the dank dreariness of the homeland for Southern Californian nirvana at this time of year, it is impossible to avoid thoughts of how the British contingent (and Irishman Padraig Harrington) will fare at next year's Ryder Cup in Kentucky.

Wandering down the back nine at Sherwood Country Club on Friday, it was easy to think that a European victory next fall will be a formality. Again.

The first group through was Colin Montgomerie and Luke Donald; Monty marching merrily on his way to a five-under 67 that helped erase the memories of his awful opening day 80.

Meanwhile, Donald, who looks every inch the boy next door until his expression hardens while standing over a shot, produced the same score to send him scurrying up the leaderboard, where he is tied for seventh.

A quick check on Paul Casey produced similarly pleasant results – he, too, was on course for a 67. Casey's comments in 2004 that the European Ryder Cup stars "properly hate" their opponents did not win him many fans among the purists or, understandably, the Americans, but it did endear him to plenty of British fans, many of whom share the sentiment.

Maybe that's why Europe has been so successful of late, because it means so much. If not for the Ryder Cup, Monty would just be the best player never to win a major, Paul McGinley would be a solid but relatively anonymous journeyman, and Woods would have received polite applause instead of boos when he sat ringside in front of a mainly British crowd in Las Vegas last weekend for the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Ricky Hatton bout.

On to the signature 15th hole at Sherwood Country Club, Lee Westwood was having a steady but quiet day accompanied by Steve Stricker. Westwood's best days have seemed reserved for Ryder Cup duty in recent years, but there will be few Europeans who complain too much about that.

Friendly banter with some supporters inevitably turned to the Ryder Cup. Was I confident? Yes. Did the Europeans fear a backlash from the wounded American team? No. And why was I just watching the Brits when Europeans Henrik Stenson and Niclas Fasth were also in the Target field?

Well, obviously we had to let the Europeans into the Ryder Cup back in the late '70s to make it a bit more competitive, but we still see the event as our competition, dating back to when it was the good old days of G.B. and Ireland vs. the United States.

That's why most of the European fans who travel to Valhalla in Kentucky for next year's competition will be British. The muscle-bound pound, still bouncing down the middle of the fairway while the dollar languishes in the deep rough, doesn't hurt either.

After Westwood shook his head in annoyance when he missed a routine putt on the 15th, it was off to watch Harrington, whose British Open triumph this year was seen as a home victory despite him being Irish.

The man from Dublin, now 36, doesn't really look like a world class golfer with his slightly odd, splayed gait, but he certainly plays like one. If not for a series of putts that got away on the home stretch he would have had a scorecard far more spectacular than a 67.

Even so, it was an altogether satisfactory day which gave rise to plenty of pre-Ryder Cup optimism. With Europe's legendary team spirit and play like this, surely it will be a fourth straight victory in September.

Except that some bloke called Woods had gone and blown everyone out of the water with an unbelievable course-record 62. Perhaps it will be a battle after all.

What to Read Next