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Tiger can't shake Ryder Cup blues

9/27/2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- In the morning, Tiger Woods played well. And lost.

In the afternoon, he played poorly. And lost.

Thanks to his 0-2 day Friday at The Belfry, he's now 3-8-1 for his career in the Ryder Cup. He's won one point on the first day in three appearances.

And he's under the kind of unpleasant microscope he rarely has had to deal with as a professional, save for a short-lived "Tiger slump" or two.

Not that he seems particularly worried about it -- at least outwardly.

"I thought I hit the ball well today," said Woods, who skipped a chance to meet with the international media and instead returned to the American team room quickly at the close of play.

His captain, Curtis Strange, translated for him.

"He doesn't feel real good right now, and that's good," Strange said. "He's disappointed, which is good. He probably feels as though he let the team down a bit, which is good. Makes you come back hungrier tomorrow."

Friday just left a bad taste in his mouth.

"Tiger did play well this morning," Strange said. "He let it get away this afternoon a little bit."

In particular, he let two putts get away in his afternoon foursomes match with Mark Calcavecchia. On the 11th, he missed a 4-footer for par, leaving the Americans 1-down to Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. He missed an even shorter putt for par on the 12th, leaving the Americans 2-down.

They eventually went 3-down before losing 2 and 1. Woods is 1-5 on opening day at the Ryder Cup in three appearances.

"I just missed two crucial putts on 11 and 12," Woods said. "It turned the entire momentum of the match on 11."

"Everybody is human," said Calcavecchia. "The greens are tough to putt. I don't think they're that smooth."

In the morning, Woods opened well. He made four birdies in his first eight holes and teamed with Paul Azinger to shoot a best-ball 63. But that wasn't enough, as Europeans Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn rallied from 1-down at the turn to win 1-up.

"We thought this golf course was going to be playing pretty hard," Woods said. "It plays difficult. And you figure if you shot 9- or 10-under par this morning, you'd be all right. But it wasn't enough."

But Woods never seemed comfortable on the relatively slow Belfry greens, leaving several putts short -- something that would haunt him again in the afternoon.

He also found a course that didn't suit his game very well. He hit driver only twice Friday -- at two par 5s -- and even hit an 8-iron off the tee at the par-4 10th hole in the foursomes match.

"Here, there's nothing he can do," Azinger said. "We've got some very powerful hitters that are forced to hit irons off every tee. Tiger hit driver off the par-5s. And he's hitting to a small area. The guy is forced to play back. His strength is his power."

While Woods is 0-2, several of his contemporaries had good days. Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia are both 2-0 for the Europeans. Phil Mickelson earned 1½ points for the Americans. Only one other player who played two matches -- Europe's Padraig Harrington -- lost twice Friday.

Nobody really wanted to remind him of that -- at least not directly.

"It must be hard to be the No. 1 player in the world and not have such a good record in the Ryder Cup," Garcia said. "But he's still a great player."

"I'm sure Tiger is hurting," European captain Sam Torrance said. "He's lost twice. He's the greatest player that probably every lived. But that's what the Ryder cup is. Anyone is beatable out there."

Strange was a little more succinct.

"You cannot slip at all in these matches," Strange said. "You're playing world class players. In 18 holes of match play, you cannot afford to slip."

Woods slipped. A little bit in the morning, a little bit more in the afternoon. Saturday?

"I guess it would be good for the rookies to see the No. 1 player in the world has been beaten twice," Torrance said. "(It would) lift them up. But I'm sure he'll be back."

"Hopefully tomorrow," Strange said.