The U.S. was favored in the '95 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill, but Europe came from behind on the last day, in the singles, to win. The U.S. was heavily favored again in '97 but lost, mostly due to a lack of familiarity with Valderrama. Course knowledge should not be a problem this time around. The NEC had barely ended when eight of the 12 members of the U.S. team rushed off to the airport to catch a charter flight to Boston for a Monday practice round at the Country Club.
Woods (as well as Lehman, Love and O'Meara) was not among them, but he still looms large. His numbers speak for themselves: four victories in his last seven starts on Tour and five for the year. (He won a sixth event in Europe.) The last 23-year-old to win five times in a season was Jack Nicklaus, in 1963. Woods has played in 67 Tour events and has won 12 of them—or better than one out of six. He is the Tour's most feared closer, winning nine of the 10 times when he has led or shared the lead after 54 holes. He has missed the cut only twice, and his current streak of 36 straight cuts made is the Tour's longest. Woods has finished in the top 10 in 13 of the 18 tournaments he has played this year. The money he has won is meaningless as a means of comparison, yet for the record, Woods has earned $4.27 million in '99 and is up to $8.97 million for his career, 12th on the alltime list.
The most impressive number Woods came up with last week was the 62 he laid on the field in the third round. That gave him a five-shot lead going into Sunday. He looked invincible, but as all golfers know, no one ever is. Just like at the PGA, where his five-stroke cushion evaporated on the back nine, Woods's advantage was also whittled down to a single shot at Akron. Instead of Garcia, this time it was Phil Mickelson who challenged, with five birdies on the first seven holes to make the turn in 30. Mickelson bogeyed two of the last three holes, though, to finish with a 65, and when Woods made a clutch 15-footer for birdie at 17, he took a two-shot lead to the final tee. Mickelson, who was watching Woods on a TV in the scoring trailer along with his wife, Amy, their baby daughter, Amanda, and his caddie, Jim MacKay, stuffed his glove and some tees back into his golf bag after Woods holed that putt, sure that there wouldn't be a playoff.
He was right, even though Woods bogeyed the final hole. Mickelson wasn't around to see it. He had some business to take care of in Boston.