For the first time since 2008, the U.S. Ryder Cup team will be without Tiger Woods. That doesn't appear to be a bad thing.
Woods was injured in 2008, which happens to be the last time Team USA beat Europe in the biennial matches. He's out injured again this year, rehabbing in Florida as the Americans head to Scotland for the 40th Ryder Cup that begins Friday at the Gleneagles resort.
While Woods is the most dominant player of his generation with 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour victories, his Ryder Cup record by comparison is abysmal. His teams have lost six of the seven competitions he's played in and his record in 33 total matches is 13 wins, 17 losses and three halves. He has a good singles record, 4-1-2, but he has been unable to lift his teammates in the pairs competitions (foursomes and fourballs), in which his record is 9-16-1.
So his absence this week doesn't leave a big hole in the Americans' prospects. After an injury-impacted, winless season, Woods didn't provide any compelling reason for U.S. captain Tom Watson to make him a wild-card pick, and he took himself out of the running after his bad back forced him to withdraw from the PGA Championship. The Americans can't do worse without him.
Clearly Woods' presence hasn't made the Europeans quake. They have won 10 of the last 14 Ryder Cups, including a four-point comeback in the singles competition on Sunday in the 2012 Cup, a historic rally that matched the Americans' feat in 1999 when Woods was a part of his only Ryder Cup-winning team.
Woods isn't alone among futility for big-name American veterans. Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk, longstanding Ryder Cuppers and highly successful PGA Tour players, are part of this year's team again after having qualified through the points system. They bring with them records of mediocrity. Mickelson has played 38 matches with a record of 14-18-6 and has been on two winning teams ('99 and '08). Furyk, in 30 matches, is 9-17-4 and was part of the same winning teams as Mickelson.
By contrast, Europe has its own genuine Ryder Cup Tiger -- Ian Poulter. The effervescent Englishman, known more for his radiant wardrobe than his tournament portfolio, is the undisputed king of match play in recent Ryder Cups. Three of the four teams he played on were winners.
Poulter didn't have a good season, and didn't qualify through the European Ryder Cup list, but Euro captain Paul McGinley just couldn't afford not to pick him as a wild card.
Poulter's Ryder Cup numbers are louder than his clothing. He's 12-3 lifetime, the best winning percentage of any Ryder Cup participant who has played at least 15 matches. Poulter won all four matches he played at the 2012 event.
Europe also has Sergio Garcia, who carries on the spirit of the late Seve Ballesteros. In 28 matches, Garcia's record is 16-8-4. In six appearances, Garcia continually has combined his talent with a vitality that permeates the European side.
The U.S. Ryder Cup side has three rookies -- Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, none of whom were playing that well at the end of the season. Watson will rely heavily for points and an emotional charge from Keegan Bradley, who didn't have the best of seasons, but did have a great rookie Cup in 2012 and thus was a captain's pick.
Bradley embodies most visibly the characteristic that Watson has most valued in his team.
"You can't underestimate the value of a big heart," Watson said. "I've said it many times -- heart is the No. 1 quality I'm looking for in these players."