Commentary

Woods exacts a bit of revenge in win

Originally Published: October 11, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Once inside the ropes, he is all business. There is no debating that point about Tiger Woods, no matter the venue, the stakes, the size of the trophy.

When the cameras are turned on and the gallery crushes up to see him, he is there to win.

His record as a pro in United States team competition, however, had usually left a different impression.

It wasn't that his play in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup had been poor. His results simply did not match those expected of the No. 1 player in the world, a guy who has otherwise been so successful.

Woods once famously remarked that nobody knew Jack Nicklaus' Ryder Cup record but could easily recite his major championship accomplishment of 18 victories. The clear inference was that one is clearly more important than the other.

Even this week, on the eve of the competition, Woods described his plight in these team events.

"Either way; I play well and it's not enough, and I play poorly and, 'You're not very good,'" Woods said. "So it is what it is."

There can be no fussing about Woods today.

Whether he took motivation from any perceived slights, wanted revenge against his PGA Championship tormentor Y.E. Yang, or simply did what he always does and found better results, Woods had the best Presidents Cup (or Ryder Cup) of his career.

He became just the third player (joining Mark O'Meara and Shigeki Maruyama) to go 5-0 in a Presidents Cup.

"That's what you expect out of your No. 1 player in the world," said International team captain Greg Norman. "You need him to step up to the plate, and sometimes he hasn't done that, and this time he did do it."

And fittingly, Woods clinched the Americans' 19½ to 14½ victory over the International team Sunday at Harding Park Golf Course when he made a birdie putt at the 13th hole to close out his match against Yang, 6 and 5.

The Americans have now won six of the eight Presidents Cups, and for the competition to get interesting Sunday, there needed to be some firepower early from the International squad.

That didn't happen, as Americans Hunter Mahan and Stewart Cink won the first two matches, Anthony Kim won the fourth and Sean O'Hair knocked off Ernie Els. That meant it was not a matter of if, but when, the Americans won the Cup, and the timing simply worked out for Woods.

"I didn't know, I swear," a giddy Woods said afterward. "All I knew was I was trying to get my point and I was 5 up and trying to make it 6. I didn't look at any boards. I saw we were down in six matches at one point so I just kept my head down and tried to extend my own lead."

It doesn't make up for his Sunday loss in August at the PGA to Yang. The most recent major champion birdied the first hole and then got run over by Woods, who simply said: "He got me once, and hopefully I could get him a second time."

After falling behind at the first hole to a Yang birdie, Woods went 5 under par before closing him out.

"I thought I had a good start, but Tiger just had a phenomenal week," Yang posted on his Twitter page afterward. "Hope I don't have to play him for a long time. … Disappointed that I lost so lopsided, but Tiger was awesome today. Hats off to the No. 1 player in golf."

This week is the first time Woods scored more than 3 points in a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup. The United States, with the top three players in the world in Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, saw those players go 13-1-1 and contributed to 9½ of the Americans' 19½ points.

All these Cups would be an easy deal for the Americans if they continually got that kind of production from their top players.

"It was a fun thing to have Tiger and Steve beat up on everybody for me," said U.S. captain Fred Couples. "I wanted Tiger to win every match. I thought it was important for our team."

And yet, the 5-point Presidents Cup victory could have been a much closer contest, especially going into Sunday. And Woods, again, had a lot to do with it.

Norman sensed it Saturday after witnessing Woods make a birdie putt at the 17th hole and then set up Steve Stricker for an eagle at the 18th that won their match against Mike Weir and Tim Clark, calling it "the defining moment."

"And I think that was a shot in the arm for Tiger himself, and that injected a lot of adrenaline into the rest of the team," Norman said. "You need your big gun, and he is their big gun, and he stepped up big-time for his team."

Woods has rarely, if ever, had that kind of impact on the Cups.

Certainly his Sunday singles victory at the 1999 Ryder Cup was important, as the U.S. overcame a 4-point deficit to win 14½ to 13½. But Woods was just 2-3 at that event.

And while this is the fourth time he has had a winning record at the Presidents Cup, Woods' overall mark at the Ryder Cup is 10-13-2, and his only winning record was at the 2006 Ryder Cup, where the Americans were trounced.

Woods now gets to enjoy a month-long break after a remarkable 11-week run that saw him play eight tournaments during that span.

Going back to the Buick Open in early August, Woods went 1-1-2-2-11-1-2 in seven stroke-play events before going undefeated at the Presidents Cup.

It has been quite an end to a season that saw him start the year with many doubts. He didn't know how his golf game would respond after serious knee surgery ended his 2008 season in June. Woods did not begin to take full shots until January, played his first tournament in eight months at the end of February, then ended up winning six times on the PGA Tour.

There were no major championships this year -- Yang played a big role in that -- but it was certainly a year to remember, and one to build on, with the majors visiting three of Woods' most successful venues (Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews) in 2010.

Woods still has some work to do this year, although what does or does not happen is of little consequence. He will compete in the HSBC Champions in China next month -- where the money and a tournament title will not count on his PGA Tour record -- followed by the Australian Masters. Then a month after that, it's his unofficial Chevron World Challenge.

"To come back from what I came back from, to have the success I had this year, I don't think anyone would have predicted that, and I'm very proud of that," he said.

So Sunday was Woods' last appearance this year on U.S. soil in a meaningful tournament. And it turned out to be a pretty good way to say goodbye.

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

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com