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Monday, September 24, 2012
Tiger benched? It would be a first

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Among the difficult decisions for a Ryder Cup captain to make is which players to put on the bench in the team sessions while trying to balance how much -- or how little -- each of the 12 players participates.

With four sessions comprising 36 holes on Friday and on Saturday and an 18-hole singles session on Sunday in which everyone plays, figuring out the pairings while also maximizing performance is a big part of the strategy.

As it relates to Tiger Woods, other than his partners, there has never been anything to consider for a U.S. captain. When healthy, Woods has played in every match dating to his first Ryder Cup in 1997 (as well as every Presidents Cup match back to 1998).

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has played on six Ryder Cup teams and never missed a single session. Might that change in 2012 at Medinah Country Club this week?

But could that change this week at Medinah?

Only Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk bring more experience to the U.S. team than Woods, who is making his seventh Ryder Cup appearance. But the Americans also have considerable depth, something often lacking in recent years as the U.S. has just one victory dating to 1999.

Would captain Davis Love III consider sitting Woods for the first time?

"I'm not going to volunteer," Woods said, smiling, when asked about the possibility last week. "Wouldn't want to [play] is a different story than not playing. Of course I want to play all five. Because I feel like I can help the team."

Woods has played 29 matches in his Ryder Cup career, posting a 13-14-2 record. At the Ryder Cup in Wales two years ago, there were only four sessions played because of weather problems that condensed the format. Before that, Woods had played all five sessions dating back to his 1997 debut.

Given the overall U.S. record lately, it is no surprise that, along with Woods, none of the other eight players with previous Ryder Cup experience has a winning record.

Playing all five sessions can be a grind because it entails 36 holes on Friday and on Saturday. The days are long, from early morning until early evening, with only a short break.

But no captain would have considered sitting Woods, the No. 1 player in the world through much of his Ryder Cup tenure. Even two years ago in Wales, when he was coming off his first winless season on the PGA Tour and needed a captain's pick from Corey Pavin, Woods was one of the U.S. team's best players, going 3-1, including a singles victory over Francesco Molinari.

"I feel like it's difficult on the guys who play five matches," said Furyk, who was a captain's pick this year. "Their singles record is usually below .500. It puts a lot of stress on the guys. I did it at The Belfry [in 2002] and I've done it in a bunch of Presidents Cups, but the difference there is everybody plays the first two days and you're not playing 36-36. There's just one [day of] 36. It's not quite as tough.

"In the Ryder Cup format, I think that had a lot to do with Brookline [the 1999 Ryder Cup], to be honest with you. Where they had a lot of guys playing five matches. I think they wore down."

Furyk was referring to the European collapse at The Country Club, where the U.S. team trailed 10-6 going into singles and rallied to win 14½-13½. European captain Mark James went to great length to hide players, keeping three of them out until singles and playing six in all four of the team matches. Of those six, only Colin Montgomerie (who had the final hole conceded by Payne Stewart after the overall match was decided) and Paul Lawrie won in singles.

Over the years, however, such statistics are mixed. Two years ago in Wales, with only four sessions over four days, the argument is not in play. At the 2008 Ryder Cup, captain Paul Azinger had only Mickelson and Hunter Mahan play all five matches. Mickelson lost in singles, and Mahan halved. Woods missed the matches because of injury.

As far back as 1995, five Europeans played all five matches, with three of them winning at singles on the last day.

Woods has never missed a session at the Presidents Cup, either, going 20-14-1 in 35 matches over seven events. But, as Furyk pointed out, the format is played over four days and the grind not as pronounced.

In the Ryder Cup, Woods is 4-1-1 in singles, with his only loss coming in his first Ryder Cup in 1997 and the tie coming in 2002, when he conceded the final hole to Jesper Parnevik with the outcome of the event decided.

"I've had a good singles record," said Woods, who acknowledged that Love has a lot of options.

And yet …

"That's why we train, run all those miles, lift all those weights, so we're fit for these things," he said.

Love has choices and depth, and he in no way has to decide anything now. But the premise of Woods playing the role of cheerleader is certainly interesting, if not very likely.