So Rory McIlroy and the European Ryder Cup team want a crack at Tiger Woods, do they? A chance to kick the world No. 1 and captain’s pick to the U.S. squad—now there’s a contradiction in terms for you—around the course while he’s down?
Don’t bet on it.
I’m not a hunter, but my hunter friends tell me that at no time are they more in danger than when approaching or trying to corner a wounded but still mobile predator. And so, most of the time, they don’t even bother. Better to wait it out and let the animal expire on its own, if it’s going to, than to try to hasten the process and risk life or limb.
Tiger Woods is that wounded animal.
True, Tiger’s wounds are largely self-inflicted, and there’s no question that since returning from scandal and his self-imposed exile he has yet to regain the form that has made him the world’s greatest golfer and the odds-on favorite to win any event he enters. But time heals all wounds that aren’t fatal, and in Tiger’s case, the longer he goes without winning, the closer he is to doing so.
Yogi Berra wasn’t talking about golf when he said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental, and the other half is physical,” but he might as well have been, and Tiger is the perfect case study.
Few sports psychologists would argue the point that his struggles are almost entirely mental, which seems strange considering Tiger’s carrying card, his greatest advantage over his opponents, has been his mental toughness, his ability to focus and will himself to winning in the clutch when so many others fold under the pressure.
That said, it’s reassuring, refreshing even, that Tiger hasn’t been dominating as usual in the wake of his personal troubles. It’s made him more human and suggests that, contrary to popular belief, winning isn’t everything, nor the only thing, even for Tiger Woods.
Where I come from, there’s a saying: No other success can compensate for failure in the home. Something tells me Tiger now knows that and would trade in his major championships for the chance to take a mulligan, go back in time and do right by his now ex-wife and family. Unfortunately, life, like professional golf, rarely offers mulligans.
But there are reasons to believe that, on the course anyway, Tiger will turn things around soon, perhaps as early as this weekend at the Ryder Cup. With his divorce now behind him, Tiger has already hit rock bottom and has nowhere to go but up. It’s not Tiger’s personality to wallow endlessly in self-pity.
At some point, probably sooner than later, he’ll snap out of the emotional and mental funk he’s been in, and when he does, his game is sure to follow.
One side benefit of Tiger’s poor play is that he has effectively lowered expectations and the pressure to perform that comes with those expectations, which may work to his advantage in the Ryder Cup team format. The U.S. squad may or may not win, but no one is counting on Tiger to be the difference-maker, much less carry the team.
And then there’s the whole team concept that may give Tiger a much needed boost. Over the past year, “Team Tiger” has taken a huge hit, and with no one to summon off the bench to give him a reprieve or to blame for his mistakes on and off the course, Tiger has probably never felt more isolated and alone. His play to date certainly supports this.
But if anyone has reason to be accepting of Tiger and to go out of their way to help him feel included and valued, it’s his Ryder Cup teammates, and not solely for the purpose of coaxing better play out of him for this event. They realize, as does every other tour player, that a competitive, winning Tiger is good for the game, which is good for tour revenues, which is good for them.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the sooner he returns to beating their brains in again on the course, the better they will all feel.
Unless, of course, you are a member of the European Ryder Cup team, in which case you’d like to forestall Tiger’s recovery until after this weekend’s proceedings. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to say or do anything publicly to provoke or otherwise antagonize Tiger Woods in his depressed state.
To paraphrase another hunting metaphor, “Let sleeping tigers lie!” So what if you really do relish the challenge of playing and beating a wounded Tiger in Ryder Cup play! Why risk losing the advantage by acknowledging it?! If he lacks motivation, why take a chance on giving him some?
A far better strategy, in my opinion, would be to express real angst at the prospect of facing Tiger whatever his condition, to play down his struggles and to play up his status as the No. 1 ranked player in the world and his history of rising to the occasion.
If I’m captain of the European squad, I’m trying surreptitiously to burden Tiger with expectations befitting a healthy world No. 1 in the hope that he’s not yet up to the challenge.
So which Tiger will show up for the Ryder Cup? The world No. 1? Or the captain’s pick?
Don’t be surprised if it’s the former. Remember: A wounded Tiger is a dangerous Tiger.