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Published: Saturday, 9/18/2010

Woods is just one of the guys at Ryder Cup

U.S. captain Corey Pavin has said there is no guarantee Tiger Woods will play in all five matches in the upcoming Ryder Cup competition against Team Europe. In an interview on Friday, Pavin referred to Woods as “one of 12 guys” on Team USA's roster.

Tiger also remains the No. 1 golfer in the world, even if he hasn't often played like it over the past year, a year of well-documented personal tumult. And if he indeed proves to be just one of 12 guys, the Americans will likely be in trouble on Oct. 1-3 at Celtic Manor in Wales.

The Yanks have their share of big names – Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, and Zach Johnson all have won major championships – but none of that fivesome has a winning record in Ryder Cup play. In fact, only one team member, Hunter Mahan, has a winning mark, and it is a modest 2-0-3 accomplished during the stirring American win two years ago at Valhalla in Louisville.

“It's hard to win matches,” Pavin said. “We have some guys on the team [who] have played a lot of Ryder Cups, maybe have 50-50 records, but are still great Ryder Cup players. You're playing against great players and in match play, you know, one bounce of the ball could mean the difference between winning and losing. Performing well doesn't mean you're going to win your match necessarily.”

Team USA has five rookies, two of whom have never won a PGA Tour event. Jeff Overton became the first American ever to automatically qualify for the team without a victory and Pavin raised some eyebrows by making 21-year-old Rickie Fowler one of his captain's picks.

Woods was another and that was no surprise. After automatically qualifying with the highest point total for his five previous Ryder Cups, Woods needed a captain's pick to make the cut this time. Four of the five teams he has headed have lost and his overall record is 9-13-2.

Pavin was asked if Woods, considering all the circumstances, was under more pressure than ever to perform.

“I'd argue the opposite, actually,” Pavin said. “I think, you know, he's in a position as a pick, and he has not played up to his own standards, but he's playing some very good golf now. He's one of 12 guys and I'm going to pair him and talk to him, just like all the other players … about who they want to play with and who I feel is best for them.”

Europe has won five of the last seven Ryder matches, prompting Pavin to say, “Their teams have been a lot stronger; to me, there's nothing much more to it than that.” And, for the record, he believes the U.S. is again the underdog.

This European team also has a bevy of rookies, six, while Sergio Garcia and Darren Clarke, a combined 24-13-7 in Ryder Cup play, are assistant captains, not players, this time. But the home team has very strong golfers with winning histories in Lee Westwood, who has played on four victorious Ryder Cup teams, along with Ian Poulter and Luke Donald.

Contrary to Pavin's sentiment, there will, as usual, be enormous pressure on Woods, especially to improve on a 6-12-1 record in partner play while likely being paired with Steve Stricker. If Tiger doesn't play his best golf of the year and if Team USA's other veterans don't stand tall, it could be a long weekend in Wales.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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