Happiness equals success for Tiger

Updated: September 18, 2004, 4:22 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Midway through his team-wide tongue-lashing after the worst Ryder Cup start in team history Friday night, U.S. captain Hal Sutton was interrupted by the most unexpected person.

Tiger Woods.

Woods didn't say much, telling his teammates to simply seize the moment and "take care of business," but it didn't matter. The fact that he opened his mouth, showed emotion and shared in the pep talk spoke volumes. And it resonated with his teammates.

"Anybody who doesn't look up to Tiger Woods, who doesn't hold on to every word he says, has a little bit to learn," said Ryder Cup rookie Chris Riley. "When he talks, you listen."

Tiger Woods
Getty ImagesTiger was pumped to play with buddy Riley, and it showed in his performance.

No matter what happens for the rest of this Ryder Cup (the Americans trailed 8-4 after the Saturday morning Four-ball matches), this may have been the turning point for Woods in international play. Less than 24 hours after his statuesque frame roamed Oakland Hills with a bored, expressionless look on his face, Woods was a completely different player, bouncing through the course with a renewed exuberance.

In the morning, after he and Riley closed out Darren Clarke and Ian Poulter 4 and 3, there was Woods, racing in a cart to watch Chris DiMarco sink a crucial par putt one hole ahead. Afterward, DiMarco turned and pointed to Woods, who offered an encouraging pump of the fist back.

This was the same Woods who barely smiled Friday. The same Woods who everyone said had no emotion. The same Woods who has been accused of not caring as much as the Europeans about winning the Ryder Cup.

Earlier in the week, when reporters pressed Woods about his Ryder Cup record (he moved to 6-10-2 overall after his win with Riley), Woods responded by asking if anyone could name Jack Nicklaus' Ryder Cup record. Then he asked if anybody knew how many majors Nicklaus had won. Advantage: Tiger.

But on Saturday, he looked like a completely different man. Laughing, smiling, joking around. On the par-3 ninth hole, his tee shot having found the right front bunker, Woods pranced down the fairway, twirling his putter off his fingers like some sort of glorified baton artist who didn't have a care in the world.

Much of the credit has to go to Riley, Woods' 10th different playing partner in the Ryder Cup. They both grew up in Southern California, playing as teammates in the 1992 Canon Cup and against each other in a tournament two years later.

"I beat him with a few holes left and he likes to joke that's the only time I've won with him in the field," Riley said.

Their friendship continued to grow in college, with UNLV's Riley often butting heads with Stanford's Woods. A month ago at the NEC Invitational, Woods openly campaigned to play alongside Riley. So when his wishes came true Saturday, a day after the Dream Team of he and Mickleson crumbled to pieces, Woods reveled in the joy of playing alongside a friend.

"He's perceived as goofy at times, but he's as tough a competitor as anybody I've played with," Woods said. "I've played a lot of golf with Riles and he won't lay down for anybody."

How different were things on Saturday morning with Riley than on Friday morning with Mickelson? While Tiger and Phil barely spoke, it was rare to see Riley and Woods apart. They waited for each other to walk down the fairways together. They exchanged knuckle knocks each time the other succeeded. And they often put their arms around each other's shoulder while waiting for the Europeans to putt.

"We're friends and, I don't know, it's a real tough thing to pair people up," Riley said. "It's a tough thing to pair people up because you don't want friends because they get too friendly and too lackadaisical."

Riley said he made a point to walk with Woods on each hole and talk about "things." Not a great drive Tiger had just unleashed. Or a critical putt that Riley had waiting for him on the green, but other stuff. Like the weather. How much fun they were having. What they might do tonight.

"You know," Riley said, "the sort of stuff any normal friends would talk about really."

No more was their connection evident than on the 16th green, when Woods and Riley closed out the Europeans. Riley had about a six-foot putt to end the match and both he and Woods studied it -- a rarity for an American pairing. After the ball fell, Woods embraced Riley, wrapping his hand behind his head. After a congratulatory handshake from Poulter and Clarke, Woods grabbed Riley again for a second hug.

Then they shared a long handshake, which Woods broke with an emphatic snap.

That's two hugs and one handshake in some 20 seconds for a man accused of needing more emotion.

And it wasn't just Riley. After Woods and Davis Love III teed off on the first hole of their afternoon Foursome match, there was Woods again, wrapping his hands around Love's shoulders and offering an ever-so-brief shoulder massage.

Even Michael Jordan, following Woods and Riley throughout the morning's match, sensed something different with his close friend.

"He looks more relaxed," Jordan said. "I think we're seeing a different Tiger today."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.

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