I’ve written about golf previously here, and it was really hard not to fall into the narrative that is pervasive in golf these days. When Franceso Molinari won the Open Championship, lost in his victory was a strong performance by tiger Woods. Forget that Molinari was the first Italian golfer to win a major. Tiger looked good for the first time in X years and he got pretty close to winning (even though he didn’t really), and the stories were “Is Tiger Back?” and all that. I am guilty of writing that story as well.
When Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship, the stories again were focused on Tiger, though this time they may have been more warranted because he actually finished in second place, though Koepka had sealed it up with a few holes to go and the final margin was only as close as it was (2 strokes) because of a meaningless birdie by Tiger on his final hole. Those same “Is tiger Back?” questions persisted, and many people – including me – questioned whether two months of golf was enough to get Tiger on the Ryder Cup team (apparently it was).
But Tiger has finally won again. His first win since he won the Bridgestone Invitational in August 2013. His first tournament win since the S&P 500 was at 1,710 (it closed Friday at 2,929). When he last won, LeBron James was still playing in Miami, Tim Duncan was getting ready to lead the Spurs to his (and their) last Championship. Tom Brady had only won three Superbowls, and had more recently lost one than won. It’s been a long time, is what everyone is trying to say.
One tournament does not a comeback make, and while he has been pretty consistent over the past few months, the next question is whether he can sustain it going forward. The Ryder Cup starts this weekend in France, and while the schedule has yet to be released, I’m sure their will be wall-to-wall coverage of Tiger (and the rest of the team, obvs) once he steps up to his first tee.
The United States are hoping to defend their Ryder Cup Championship from 2016, and Tiger is hoping for a strong showing in his first Ryder Cup since 2012 (it will be his 8th appearance overall). In fact, Tiger hasn’t been all that strong in his previous Cup appearances, with a 13-17-3 record in 33 matches, so he definitely should not be considered the strength of the team. U.S. captain Jim Furyk will probably lean on the aforementioned Brooks Koepka in his 2nd Cup, as well as Dustin Johnson (4th Cup) and Patrick Reed (3rd Cup), as all three boast a winning record in their Ryder Cup matches.
The European team is anchored by Open Champion Molinari, as well as Justin Rose (England) and Rory McElroy (Northern Ireland). The rest of the team that automatically qualified will be making their Ryder Cup debuts, so European captain Thomas Bjørn selected some veterans with his captain’s picks: Sergio Garcia (Spain) makes his 9th Cup appearance, Ian Poulter (England) will be making his 6th, Henrik Stenson (Sweden) his 5th and Paul Casey (England) his 4th.
Overall, the teams seem pretty evenly matched. The golfers on the European team have combined to play 124 total Ryder Cup matches, with a record of 61-40-23 (0.585 winning percentage). The U.S., on the other hand has played a total of 139 matches, with a losing record of 57-62-20 (0.482). The U.S. team only has three Ryder Cup rookies (Justin Thomas and captain’s picks Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau), while the Europeans have five rookies (all of whom qualified through play and not as captain’s picks): Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Alex Norén, and Thorbjørn Olesen.
It was great to see Tiger back to his winning ways, and a winning Tiger tends to be pretty good for golf. I mean, take a look at all the people following him to the 18th green yesterday capturing it on video, if only because it could possibly be the last time that Tiger makes that winning stroll up the 18th fairway:
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 24, 2018
But the Ryder Cup this weekend will be the first opportunity for Tiger to show that he is peaking at the right time. A strong showing there, combined with his performance over the past couple of months, could bode well for a more frequent return to the top of the leader board during the 2019 season, perhaps even including his first major championship since 2008.
Good luck to both Ryder Club teams this weekend as the 2018 golf season comes to an end!