MEDINAH, Ill. --Now that wasn't so hard was it? After all these years, a U.S. Ryder Cup captain finally had the nerve to bench Tiger Woods for a round, and the sky did not fall, the earth did not shake. And Woods came back strong.
It truly was an easy call for Davis Love III, given that the U.S. flourished without Woods, and that everyone else on the team also had to sit out at least one match. But it was a first. Europe's Ian Poulter had said on Friday, "Is Davis Love going to sit Tiger Woods? He's a brave man."
Like many other hurdles, it was not nearly as high as it had seemed. Love said he told the top-ranked American golfer, "Somebody had to be the one to sit you."
In the short run, it worked out fine for Davis' team. With Woods out of the lineup Saturday morning, the U.S. players breezed like a bunch of college kids on a Eurail Pass. The Americans won three of four matches and took an 8-4 lead into the afternoon, when Woods and Steve Stricker returned.
In the long run, the benching should work out fine for Woods, too. Weaving him into the team fabric always has been a struggle. Sometimes the best way to help someone be a better team player is to have them not play. The benching made a statement, finally, that Woods is just one of the guys.
Over the years, there have been many theories about why Woods and his team had losing Ryder Cup records: He wanted to remain slightly aloof from the guys he was trying to beat the rest of the year. He has a "lone wolf" personality that makes small group interaction awkward. He was so good that even his partners were intimidated by him. Who knows?
Woods deserves the benefit of the doubt. He always has played hard in the Ryder Cup, and was especially focused late Saturday. He seemingly has tried to fit in. The fit just never was smooth. It is not absurd to suggest that the winning U.S. team chemistry in 2008 came so easily because captain Paul Azinger did not have to worry about how to handle Woods, who was out with a broken leg.
Anyway, the benching yesterday might have finally broken a barrier. Give Love credit for not doing it Friday afternoon, when Woods was coming off a horrible performance. That would have seemed like punishment and would have been the big story of the day. Instead, the captain yanked him after Woods played very well in a loss Friday afternoon.
There was absolutely zero controversy about it. The harder choice for Love was sitting the galvanizing, unbeaten Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley yesterday afternoon. The former was happy for the rest. Bradley was philosophical. "I would much rather sit and have a guy who didn't play go play," the Ryder Cup rookie from St. John's said, "because I want everybody to be ready for singles."
The Americans looked good and ready Saturday afternoon for today's climactic 12 singles matches. The captain looked smart. The only second-guessing from this peanut stand says Love should have kept Stricker on the bench, and let Bradley -- the ultimate inspiring teammate -- play alongside Woods, the ultimate player trying to be part of a team.
"It was nice to be fresh, no doubt. I felt great this morning. It was nice to kind of sleep in and get a little bit of rest," Woods said. "Five matches in three days is a lot, and hey, I'm not young any more."
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