Tiger: Was that a game face or indifference?
NEWPORT, Wales - If Tiger Woods is more passionate or determined about playing in this Ryder Cup than he's been in his previous appearances, he's masking it brilliantly.
Or perhaps he already has his game face on.
Woods would seem to have plenty of motivation to excel this week at Celtic Manor Resort. A large contribution to Team USA's retention of the cup would bring him a measure of satisfaction after a winless PGA Tour season and help restore some luster to his tarnished off-course image. It probably wouldn't be a bad thing for his ego, either, after watching the Americans excel in his absence two years ago at Valhalla GC in Louisville. Then there's the matter of his first appearance as a captain's pick after he failed to qualify for the team on points.
But Woods was notably detached Tuesday during a 20-minute interview session, only once showing the slightest hint of the motivation that might be simmering underneath. That came with the mention of Rory McIlroy's comments from the Bridgestone Invitational that he would very much like to play against the No. 1 player in the world this week.
"Me, too," Woods responded, nearly biting the words off.
The rest of the question and non-answer session was filled with evasions and bromides and was more remarkable for some of the questions lobbed his way with all the subtlety of a grenade launcher.
Like this one:
"You don't win majors anymore, you don't win regular tournaments anymore ... and you are about to be deposed by Europeans as the world No. 1 or Phil Mickelson. Where is the Ryder Cup now on your agenda now that you're an ordinary golfer?"
"I remember you're the same one at the British Open who asked me that, too," Woods replied calmly. "I hope you're having a good week."
Woods, truthfully, has seemed rather ordinary in the Ryder Cup, with a record of 10-13-2 in 25 matches over five editions, but him not caring about it is a media concoction, apparently. "What really matters is my team. That's what I'm here with and then after that, I can't control that," he said. "That's not what it's all about. It's about us coming together as a team and being a team. And what happens outside the team room, what happens in the media or anything like that, it has no concern to us. We are here to get the job done as a team."
His teammates don't see any apathy in Woods.
"I think he's a little misunderstood when it comes to these team events," said Steve Stricker, who teamed with Woods to win all four of their matches in last year's Presidents Cup at Harding Park in San Francisco. "I've played on a couple Presidents Cup teams with him, and he wants to win just as badly as anybody on our team. It's perceived otherwise I think at times, but I think he really wants to win. He's looking forward to playing here. And I thought he looked, you know, pretty sharp today."
"I think he's been a great teammate to me," Hunter Mahan added. "I know all of the events he's been in, three out of four, he's been a great teammate and a great guy to kind of talk to and talk about match play, talk about the swing, talk about whatever. The guy doesn't like losing. I don't think he likes you guys writing about how bad of a Ryder Cup player he is. I think he's going to find motivation in this week to kind of get back some of the U.S. fans, and I think he's very, very eager to play well this week."
If that is indeed the case, Woods wasn't letting on. Asked if this week did, indeed, carry extra significance for him, he demurred.
"I think it always has a special significance," he said.
But caution: results might not signal the true value of the experience. There were no "second sucks," sentiments from the 14-time major champion.
"For us to come here like this and be part of a squad, it truly is fun," Woods said. "The thing that goes on in the team rooms, that's what we all look back on; the memories and the friendships that you build for a lifetime just in one week, and then the connection we have had, it's awfully fun."
But, yes, he wants to win. Stricker provided a clue. The affable Wisconsin native has been struggling with his putting the last two months. Tiger took a close look, offered him a tip about getting his hands higher, and Stricker started feeling more comfortable on the greens at Celtic Manor as the day wore on.
That anecdote revealed more about Woods and his attitude towards his teammates and the competition than Woods chose to disclose in 20 minutes -- which is just the way he likes it.
-- Dave Shedloski