Let's be realistic
about it: Montreal is a great city, and it's an honor to represent your
country, but you know that Tiger Woods would have welcomed a bye week. He'd
never say that, but his schedule does not lie. Since Aug. 2 he has played in
the World Golf Championship in Akron (a win); the PGA Championship in Tulsa
(W); his own FedEx event in Boston (T2); the FedEx event in Chicago (W); the
Tour Championship in Atlanta (W); and the Presidents Cup (W). That's six events
in two months. From a guy who likes to play 20 times a year. Did he really need
the 90-minute bus ride (on the first day) from the Queen Elizabeth hotel in
downtown Montreal to the Royal Montreal Golf Club, way out in the suburbs? To
play in an event that is essentially a PGA Tour marketing scheme with no payday
for the players? Not likely.
But there he was,
playing hard (as always), cheerleading from the first cut, low-fiving his
teammates and their caddies, going on a golf-cart joyride with an opponent,
Vijay Singh. All that, and more. After Woody Austin went for his involuntary
dip on 14 last Friday, Woods leaned into the left ear of Mrs. Austin, whom he
barely knows, and said, "I just want you to know I offered Woody my
clothes." You could have knocked Shannon Austin over with a headcover.
If you've been
watching Tiger closely over the years in these team events, you've seen him at
his most reserved. Last week he might as well have been wearing a lampshade.
Upper management set the tone. He was playing for Jack Nicklaus, a man with no
use for pomp, and Nicklaus's deputy, Jeff Sluman, a pro's pro but one with an
impish side. Captain Jack had three imperatives for his dozen players: Have
fun, enjoy the golf and have fun.
When the four-day
event was over—and the Americans had defeated the International squad handily,
19� to 14�—Nicklaus talked about his I-team counterpart, Gary Player. During
the closing ceremony, Nicklaus called Player "the best competitor and
friend I've had in golf," and both pensioners got weepy. Could you imagine
Woods, 30-plus years from now, ever talking about his. . . . Hold it, hold
Who is Tiger's
best competitor and friend in golf? Nicklaus and Player had something that
Woods, in his era, does not: players who competed fiercely and enjoyed one
another's company immensely.
" Jack and I
have said this to each other many times," Player said on Sunday night.
making more money than we ever dreamed of, but not in a million years would I
trade our era for his."
Last week Tiger
and Team U.S.A. got a taste of camaraderie. There was an energy on the club
that you didn't find on last year's losing U.S. Ryder Cup team in Ireland. Of
course, you didn't find it on the '98 U.S. Presidents Cup team either, the one
that lost to the Internationals in Australia shortly before Christmas. Nicklaus
was the boss man of that team, too. Big Jack, open and candid in public in ways
that Woods is not, has said the problem with that team was that many of the
American players, along with their captain, didn't want to be there.
In Montreal that
issue was defused, even though some of the players had recently gone through
the four-week grindfest known as the FedEx Cup playoffs. (Yes, playing golf for
money is work.) Jack kept the Presidents Cup mellow from the top, while the
P-Cup rookies— Hunter Mahan and Lucas Glover and Zach Johnson and the
snorkelin' Austin—pumped up the volume from below. "I can't say enough for
what the rookies brought to this team," said Phil Mickelson, one of the
elders. "Especially Woody, at age 43. Their energy and excitement, it
really got us going." On the Thursday opener, when six two-man teams played
alternate shot, the U.S. team won five matches and halved one.
Ernie Els lost
that day, playing with Angel Cabrera, but went 3-2-0 for the week. His team's
loss actually annoyed the Big Easy, and when it was over, Player was saying he
didn't know if the International team would want him back as captain, as the
I-team members were not thrilled with how their two-man teams were paired (but
that's always easy to say after you lose). Moreover, Els noted, the U.S. team
has a built-in advantage over the International team, because the U.S. fields
an alternate-shot team annually, in the Ryder Cup as well as in the Presidents
Cup. It has more chances to figure out how to play one of golf's most peculiar