Monday presents opportunity for Tiger
NEWPORT, Wales -- It isn't fair. It might not even make a difference, but Tiger Woods, the U-S-A needs U now more than ever.
An imposing three points separates Team USA from losing its four-day custody battle with the Ryder Cup. The Europeans lead 9½-6½, and act, talk and walk like they're going to be spraying champagne on each other late Monday afternoon from a Celtic Manor balcony. Can you blame them?
They have the home-course, home-crowd and home-rain advantage. They have an impressive lead. They have a captain with a beating pulse.
But they don't have a Woods.
The Europeans trailed after the first and second sessions. But in the six-match third session, which stretched over Saturday and Sunday, they ole, ole, ole, ole-d the Americans into a red-white-and-blue mess. They were mostly spectacular, turning a 2-point deficit into a cluster migraine for Team USA. If there was a putt that needed to be made, the Europeans made it.
So now it comes down to Monday and the 12 singles matches. And in many ways, it comes down to Woods.
He is a captain's pick, a first for him. But make no mistake: He was the first player that the Europeans searched for when the singles draw was released. The results of his match -- he'll tee off eighth, against Italy's Francesco Molinari -- also could be one of the most closely watched of the 12.
There's no way around it. This has been the worst year of Woods' life, both personally and professionally. He lost a marriage and lost a golf swing. And both happened in full view of the world.
Woods, clueless or helpless for much of 2010, hasn't won a tournament this season. He has exactly two top-10 finishes. He suffered through a career-worst 72-hole performance at the Bridgestone. He changed coaches.
On Sunday he made a four-hole, 45-minute cameo appearance during foursomes play. He and partner Steve Stricker were taken to a Wales woodshed by Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. The 6 and 5 loss was a Ryder Cup worst for Woods.
Monday's singles match becomes Woods' fifth major. It is his last chance to extract something memorable -- positively memorable -- out of a difficult and humbling year.
Won't happen, you say? His swing is in more pieces than a box of LEGOs? He's the world's No. 1 in name and number only?
But Woods doesn't have to win a 72-hole tournament, just an 18-hole match against winless Ryder Cup rookie Molinari -- and maybe even not 18 holes if he plays well enough. He has to be the Woods we remember for only four or so hours, not four days.
Despite the disastrous, almost laughable blowout loss against Westwood and Donald, Woods still is 2-1 in this Ryder Cup. And in career singles play he's 3-1-1.
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You know Woods will be more jacked up than a Chevy at a garage bay. You know he understands what his singles point could mean in a possible USA comeback. If the Americans haven't lost any ground -- or even made some up -- a Woods win could have a huge trickle-down effect.
"I think that's a great spot for him," said USA captain Corey Pavin. "If the matches go well to start off, I think the eighth spot is a very important slot for him."
The guy hasn't had a reason to celebrate since the third round of the U.S. Open in June, when he shot 31 on the back nine at Pebble Beach. In fact, the last time I saw him do a golf course fist pump was on the hotel telly the other night -- it was a commercial for his video game.
Woods blew past reporters and into the resort hotel after Sunday's Ryder Cup play. He later stood still for a quickie interview with a tournament official, saying that there was "no reason" why the USA couldn't stage a semi-miracle comeback. He wasn't the only one who thought so.
"We can't be hanging our heads now," said Stricker. "I think that's got to be the message, that it's not over yet. Three points is three matches and that can turn it around in a heartbeat."
And this from Stewart Cink, who has been the USA's best player during these matches: "This thing's just barely half over. We got to remember that. There's a lot of points out there to be taken by somebody."
Woods, of course, could be part of that heartbeat and contribute one of those precious points. He could be one of the reasons the USA has a heartbeat.
"As far as I know, the event's over tomorrow, not today," Pavin said.
It's over if Phil Mickelson, who now has the most losses in USA Ryder Cup history with 17, doesn't remember how to sink a putt that matters. He's 0-3-0 here.
It's over if Cup rookie Dustin Johnson, who suffered meltdowns at the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, doesn't figure out a way to relax. He's also winless in three matches.
Topics: The Ryder Cup
The Ryder Cup heads to Medinah, where the U.S. will try to win back the cup from Europe. ESPN.com Topics has full coverage. The Ryder Cup »
It's over if Team Europe, with it's front-loaded singles lineup (Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter) jumps on the Americans early Monday and supercharges the amazing and often rain-soaked crowds at Celtic Manor.
"In match play, anything can happen," said Pavin.
Pavin and Team USA need anything and everything to happen in the singles matches. They'll need 7½ points to retain the Cup. And for that to happen, they'll probably need Woods.
Fist pump alert?
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.
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38TH MATCHES AT CELTIC MANOR
In his career, the Ryder Cup has meant everything to Colin Montgomerie. That's why leading the Europeans to victory Monday as captain stands as a crowning achievement. Bob Harig | Championship CentralDate: Oct. 1-4, 2010
2010 champion: Europe
Course: Celtic Manor Twenty Ten Course
Where: Newport, Wales, United Kingdom
Rosters: United States | Europe