Commentary

Woods, Stricker prove a perfect pairing

Originally Published: October 10, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Corey Pavin has been taking in the sights and sounds this week at Harding Park, soaking in the atmosphere, getting a feel for festivities he will preside over less than a year from now in Wales.

Pavin is the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, and it only makes sense that he attend the Presidents Cup and get an up close and personal view of several of the players who will undoubtedly be on his team at Celtic Manor.

It is a little too early to be worrying about his pairings for the matches that will be contested eight time zones away, but then again, Pavin's job just got a little easier based on what is occurring here.

No sense in overanalyzing this one: Pencil in Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker for four matches together against the Europeans.

Highlighted by Woods' 225-yard 3-iron approach to the 18th green Saturday afternoon that set up a conceded eagle in their 1-up foursomes victory over International team members Mike Weir and Tim Clark, this has been a dream pairing for U.S. captain Fred Couples.

That was followed by a 4 and 2 victory over Ryo Ishikawa and Y.E. Yang in the afternoon four-balls that ran the duo's record to 4-0-0 at the Presidents Cup. With just the 12 Sunday singles remaining, the Americans lead the International team 12½-9½.

Some might expect such dominance from Woods, the No. 1 player in the game. Then you realize Woods had never won more than three points in any previous Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup -- a total of 10 competitions -- and you see this is something pretty special.

"I think we approach the game the same way with the same mentality," Woods said of himself and Stricker. "We just play it differently. I hit the ball a little bit further. But our mentality and how we play and how we compete is exactly the same."

And it came together rather innocently, as the two had never before been teamed in either a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. Stricker said it started two years ago at Royal Montreal for the Presidents Cup.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
David Cannon/Getty ImagesTiger Woods flushed this approach on No. 18 in the morning foursomes. The shot proved crucial to Woods and teammate Steve Stricker as they won their match 1 up.

"We didn't play together and I said to him, 'You dodged me,' " Stricker said. "Then came the Ryder Cup and I said, 'You faked a knee injury so we wouldn't have to play together in the Ryder Cup.' "

Then came the end of this year. Woods and Stricker were paired together seven times during the FedEx Cup playoffs. You'd have thought they would have gotten sick of each other, but they have become friends over the years, and Stricker made a point to bring up the idea to Woods of being partners at the Presidents Cup.

Leaving nothing to chance, they approached Couples at The Barclays in late August and requested the pairing.

Couples obliged, but that didn't mean they would have to be partners for four sessions -- as they have been. Woods would have been a good candidate to be paired with friend Sean O'Hair or Anthony Kim or even Jim Furyk -- the player he has partnered with the most in the past.

But Stricker it has been, and they have thrived.

Saturday saw Woods do the big work in the morning foursomes match, with Stricker doing the heavy lifting in the afternoon four-balls.

Through 12 holes of alternate shot, Woods and Stricker were 2 down to Weir and Clark and did not tie the match until Woods rolled in a birdie putt on the 17th hole -- it barely trickled in -- to get it all square heading to the par-5 18th.

After Stricker's drive found the fairway, Woods had 225 yards to the hole and hit a 3-iron that he liked all the way. He twirled his club and started walking after the shot, and it trickled up onto the green, 6 feet from the hole. When the International team missed a birdie putt, they conceded the eagle to the Americans -- and Woods and Stricker had won again.

"I liked that one," Woods said.

"It was fun to watch," Stricker added. "I had a front-row seat for that. That was pretty cool. We all know what he does, and he stepped it up when we had to here. It was pretty impressive.

"We all know what this guy does. The stage is set and he comes through again today. It's pretty impressive."

And yet, Woods has not done it consistently at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He came here with a 13-11-1 overall record at the Presidents Cup, and is 10-13-2 at the Ryder Cup.

Part of the issue has been finding the right partner for Woods, who even as a teammate can be an intimidating presence. Stricker is the 17th different partner for Woods in Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup play.

Over the years, he's played with the likes of Mark O'Meara, Couples, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, Charles Howell III and Furyk.

The 4-0-0 mark with Stricker is the best of any partner Woods has been with more than once. He is 6-3 with Furyk and 3-2 with Howell. The only other winning records are 2-1 with Love, 1-0 with David Toms and 1-0 with Chris Riley.

Among some of Woods' less notable partners over the years: David Duval, Steve Pate, Paul Azinger, John Huston and Notah Begay.

"It's tough when you've got the best player in the world and he's such a great iron player," Stricker said. "You just kind of don't want to get in his way at times. I found myself a lot of times [in best ball] just making sure that I hit it on the green 20, 25 feet and just giving him the opportunity just to fire right at it like he normally does.

"It's been a lot of fun; it's been a great experience. I'm very comfortable with him out there, and I think he's comfortable with me out there. So I think that's why we are having fun and playing well on top of that."

Stricker was far from a spectator in the afternoon four-ball, making four birdies on the front nine to help them to a 4-up lead and then adding two more at the 10th and 12th for an overwhelming advantage.

Coming on top of a career year that saw Stricker win three times and rise to No. 3 in the world, perhaps this is a bit of overkill, to have two of the best three in the game as a team.

But getting the right mix for Woods has never been easy.

Best not to mess with it next year in Wales.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com