Well, bravo, he did it. Tiger won again at last and the scenes at East Lake were suitably manic. So will he work his magic at Le Golf National and inspire the US Ryder Cup team to a first win in Europe since 1993? That is not a mis-type. It really is 25 years since Europe have had to hand over that wee gold trophy on home soil. It’s an incredible stat and the law of averages suggests that it’s time the Americans won again. In Paris, which has a certain ring to it. Is there a song?
I read a piece in the Daily Mail – my French isn’t quite up to L’Equipe (and neither is my keyboard) – where the sainted Colin Montgomerie suggested that any European player drawn against Tiger would be scared witless. Now, Monty had a talent for winning Ryder Cup points that was probably exceeded only by his ability never knowingly to understate. If you want a man to go over the top – in every sense – Monty is unlikely to disappoint, charging in where more cautious souls wouldn’t dare.
Predictions are always dangerous and mine are usually rubbish but here’s this week’s hostage to fortune: Tiger won’t play more than three matches. How can he? However fit he is, he must be cream-crackered and the adrenalin rush of last week must peter out soon – musn’t it? Surely his back, however well fused, can’t cope with five tours of a long, tough, tiring golf course in three days. And can he be trusted in foursomes, even though his driving stats seem to have improved? Whatever answers the next three days reveal, should our men really be scared of one man, who even at the height of his powers only played on one winning Ryder Cup team?!
One of my all-time favourite matches was at Valderrama in 1997, where Tiger, in his first full year as a professional, having set Augusta alight with his brilliance in winning the Masters by 12 shots, was given a bit of a lesson by Costantino Rocca in the singles.
Tiger was used to winning matches – three consecutive US Junior titles were followed by three US Amateurs – but this was a different level altogether. Not only was his opponent a seasoned professional, he was playing well in front of fervent fans who lined every fairway and chanted “Rocca, Rocca, Rocca” as though they were at a football match as the players walked down the fairways. For every shot, however, there was an impeccable silence. The Italian was implacable as he stayed in a cocoon of concentration and blocked out the hoopla and the oles to give a master class of playing one shot at a time. Tiger, struggling with his game, fought like blazes but he was four down (as I remember) at the turn.
”Time for lunch, I think,” one US journalist said to another and they peeled off to the clubhouse (think we were allowed in such places in those far-off days). Blimey, I thought, it’d take a death in the family to drag me away from this. It really was that compelling – and I followed my own route round the course, kneeling beside former President George Bush (senior) and getting the best possible view of what I consider Rocca’s finest hour (that St Andrews Open included). He won on the 16th and only then did he let the emotions flow after a majestic tour de force.
Thomas Bjorn, this year’s captain, made his debut that year and was four down after four (I think) in his singles when captain Seve came barrelling over and told the Dane to relax. “I AM RELAXED,” Bjorn yelled at the top of his considerable voice and Seve took the hint and tootled off to annoy someone else. Bjorn halved his match. I’ve always felt a bit sorry for Tom Kite, the American captain that year, because I don’t think he was that bad but Seve was – well, Seve squared, appearing here, there and everywhere on his buggy, trying to play every shot. It was a damned close run thing but there was NO WAY Europe were going to lose in Spain under the maestro Severiano.
I’m hoping that this year another Italian, a calm, cool, collected champion of the year called Francesco Molinari, who halved with Tiger in the mayhem at Medinah, will continue to inspire and that he and Tommy Fleetwood defy the odds and beat Tiger and Patrick Reed in the fourballs this morning. The two Europeans are low-key guys but there’ll be nothing quiet and understated about this match. Expect another cracker.
Mind you, it’s usually cold, wet and utterly miserable whenever the match is played in Europe and this year, whisper it quietly, we spectators are more likely to suffer from sunstroke than hypothermia. It’s been glorious, shirt-sleeve weather in Paris and so far waterproofs have been surplus to requirements and sunhats de rigueur. Admittedly, it might be chillier at 0600 when we’ll be heading off to the course, so I have to decide if I have the nerve to leave the thermals in the hotel room and rely on the heat of the action.