Conventional wisdom holds that it's a mistake to pair two rookies in the Ryder Cup, but when the rookies are 41-year-old Scott Hoch, the oldest first-year player in the history of the event, and 21-year-old Tiger Woods, convention goes out the window.
Not only do the games of the two men mesh—Woods is the longest player on Tour, while Hoch is one of the best from 100 yards and in—but the two also have similar temperaments and styles of play. Both are aggressive and let nothing bother them.
Woods established himself as a ruthless match-play competitor during his historic threepeat in the U.S. Amateur from 1994 to '96. Many of his opponents were beaten before they reached the 1st tee. The key to his success is his supreme confidence, which leaves the impression that he's not so much interested in winning as he is in exposing his opponent's weaknesses. "One-on-one he's a cold-blooded killer," says John Harris, a top amateur who competed against Woods for six years.
As the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Woods took part in two team competitions: the '94 World Amateur Team Championships, played outside Paris, where four-man sides competed in stroke play, and the '95 Walker Cup, in Porthcawl, Wales, which was modeled after the Ryder Cup. Woods bonded well with his teammates in France, and his 33 on the final nine capped a U.S. comeback. "He got along famously with everyone," says team captain Grant Spaeth. "His nickname was Punk Kid."
Woods already has made efforts to ingratiate himself with his Ryder Cup teammates. He scored points with captain Tom Kite when he said he didn't care whom he was teamed with. In recent months Woods has been noticeably warmer to Justin Leonard and Phil Mickelson, two young guns who were rivals in the past.
Woods does have one blemish on his record: the Walker Cup. It's not overstating the facts to say that he was responsible for the U.S.'s losing for only the fourth time since 1922. Playing in the final singles match on the first day, and needing a victory to draw his team even against Great Britain and Ireland, Woods knocked three balls out of bounds, including a shocking hook on his approach to the final green, to lose one up to Gary Wolstenholme. The next morning Woods and Harris batted cleanup in the four foursomes matches and lost 2 and 1 to Padraig Harrington and Jody Fanagan of Ireland. "Quite frankly, that was the match that cost us the Walker Cup," says Harris.
Yet Woods still gave a tease of what kind of a potent force he can be. In the first match of the competition, he and Harris stomped Stephen Gallagher and Gordon Sherry, then the red-hot reigning British Amateur champ, 4 and 3, and, says Harris, "it was a lot worse than the score. We were 4 up after five holes." With a similar vengeance Woods drilled Wolstenholme 4 and 3 in their rematch, evening his Walker Cup record at 2-2.
"He brings incredible confidence," says Harris. "You feel it, and so do guys on the other team. There's nothing that Seve or anyone can do to shake it. I can't wait to see Tiger in the Ryder Cup."