• Monday, September 18, 2006
• Tuesday, September 19, 2006
• Wednesday, September 20, 2006
• Thursday, September 21, 2006
• Friday, September 22, 2006
• Saturday, September 23, 2006
• Sunday, September 24, 2006
Tiger wasn't very good, but Phil was worse
Friday, September 22, 2006 11:05 AM
Playing alongside Jim Furyk, Tiger played poorly on the whole but mustered enough to catch up and eventually pass Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington. After lipping out par putts at Nos. 5 and 7, Woods rolled in a birdie at 8 to square the match, another at 11 to put his side 1-up, and still another at 12. Was it a coincidence that Woods caught fire when I caught up with his match? Definitely.
Tiger may've been more inspired by the presence of one of the few people in the world who knows what it's like to be him, Michael Jordan, who escorted Mrs. Woods around The K Club for most of the morning. Tiger and MJ aren't exactly alike -- Jordan is usually coming in about the time Woods is waking up -- but they are easily the two greatest athletes of my lifetime and probably the most competitive. As I watched those two walk past me at the 11th, I wondered if Woods might actually feel around Jordan the way most of the U.S. team feels around Woods.
Make no mistake, though, Furyk carried this team most of the day, including at the final hole when he hit the par-5 in two and was conceded his short birdie putt to secure for the U.S. the first point of this Ryder Cup.
The final match of the morning fourballs saw Phil Mickelson, as he's done all summer, play the starring role in his own production of "Where's Waldo?" Paired with Chris DiMarco against Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, Mickelson was nowhere to be found when his team needed him most. Nary a birdie after the fourth, Mickelson couldn't take advantage of his length at the par-5 16th. He settled for a par that put his team 1-down with two to play. He then blew his tee shot on 17 into the water, leaving DiMarco to halve the hole himself with a steady par. Then, on the par-5 18th, needing an eagle to halve the match, Mickelson put his second shot from the fairway over the green and couldn't make the pitch shot coming back. That gave the Euros the full point and the overall lead after the morning matches, 2 1/2 to 1 1/2.
You think it was bad for DiMarco this morning? He only had to watch. This afternoon in foursomes, he'll have to not only find Mickelson's ball but somehow figure out how to play it.
If only Pop Pop and Payne could be here
The truth is, I'm even more of a sucker for big moments than I am a wiseguy. So I'm partial to both pomp and circumstance. And there were copious amounts of each today at the K Club.
The whole time, I kept wondering what others were thinking or would've thought. I saw scores of little kids in the crowd today and could only imagine what it must be like for a lad from bucolic County Kildare to watch the world land in his backyard with the fireworks and the TV cameras and the superstars of golf, not to mention the President of Ireland.
I thought of Payne Stewart. He would've played a Ryder Cup on Pluto, if it were still a planet. He would've really loved playing in Ireland. Stewart would sometimes prep for the British Open by coming over a little early to Waterville in the southwest corner of the Emerald Isle. Shortly before he died in a plane crash in October of '99, Stewart accepted the Honorary Captaincy of Waterville Golf Club for the year 2000. He never served, but a bronze statue of his likeness still welcomes all comers to the Waterville links.
Stewart also got it when it came to the Ryder Cup. Having spent the first few years of his career playing everywhere but the U.S., Stewart had a deep appreciation for the privilege of playing for his country. Which is why he was so livid at the suggestion by some U.S. players, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, that they should be paid for their participation. As much money as the respective governing bodies milk from this event, I think even Stewart would now concede that it's only fair for the players to at least get something to give to the charities of their choice. But he didn't think with his head. In such matters, Stewart always thought with his heart, which always bled Red, White, and Blue.
I also remember how giddy Stewart was after winning the '99 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. It wasn't just that he'd won the Open. He'd done the math and figured out he was at that point a lock to make his first Ryder Cup team since 1993.
And then I remember at that Ryder Cup at Brookline, an event teetering on the edge of civility, how Stewart conceded the 18th hole and his match to Colin Montgomerie after Monty had endured merciless heckling all day, despite Stewart going so far as having security escort some out-of-control American fans off the premises. The sportsmanship has been better in the two Cups since, in part I think because of Stewart's gracious gesture, but the competition itself is worse for his absence.
And the other person I thought of during the festivities today was my grandfather, Billy Brewer, though I never called him anything but Pop Pop. When I was in fifth grade, my grandmother (you guessed it: Mom Mom) and he visited Great Britain and Ireland and brought me back a few little Irish trinkets. He loved golf, and I learned to love it by playing with him. He died 20 years ago this month. I thought about what a pure and holy man he was, way more than I'll ever be. And I thought about how much fun we'd have had together had he been with me on this day.
As much as I've enjoyed the opening act, I'm ready for some golf. Jim Furyk says Monday through Thursday of Ryder Cup week seem like they take three years, and Friday through Sunday seem like three minutes. Well, Furyk's wait will be among the four shortest. He'll pair with Tiger in the Ryder Cup's opening match, a fourball against Montgomerie and national hero Padraig Harrington. The waiting is over. Let the games begin.