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Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Updated: December 14, 4:54 PM ET
Woods, Watson put past behind them

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

As we talk about the 2014 Ryder Cup during the next two years, one of the main subplots of those matches will center on the relationship between Tom Watson and Tiger Woods. Watson's rebuke of Tiger in 2010 is well-known. He chided the 14-time major champion for spitting and cursing on the golf course, among other things, and not always "respecting the game."

Both players now seem to be over that public spat. On Thursday, Watson called his comments "water under the bridge," and described his relationship with Tiger as "fine."

And in a statement, Tiger said he hoped to play for the new U.S. captain in two years.

But is that really the end of the story?

What if one of your colleagues stood on top of his desk and told the whole office that you were unprofessional and weren't living up to the principles of the company's founders?

How soon would you forgive and forget?

Some would probably sabotage that person's TPS reports and take a new route to the watercooler so you wouldn't have to walk by their desk.

You think Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin sang "Kumbayah" together after Martin pulled the slugger from a game mid-inning in 1976 because he didn't hustle for a ball?

No.

Martin threw a punch at Jackson in the dugout and the two men had to be separated.

Don't expect a fistfight or verbal sparring from Watson and Woods.

Good ol' fistfights are a rarity in the polite world of golf, but there are some notable exceptions.

In 1991, J.C. Snead and the late Dave Hill got into a fight on the range during a senior tour event at the Silverado Country Club in Napa, Calif. Neither fella suffered fools lightly. Snead, a long hitter in his time, had been hitting drives from one end of the range to a spot at the other end where Hill was practicing. One of Snead's drives had almost hit Hill's wife.

Then there was the time back at the 1913 U.S. Open when Ted Ray and Wilfred Reid got into a brawl over the British tax system. Ray gave Reid a sound beating. Ray ended up being in that famous playoff with Francis Ouimet and Harry Vardon.

We know who won that fight.

Tiger fights the way Ouimet did: with his golf clubs. What better way to beat down the walls of racism in the game than to win?

What better way to settle matters with his detractors after his fall from grace in 2009 than to come back after more than two years without an official win and have three victories this year?

Now, Tiger probably won't ever satisfy everyone. As I have written for years, there probably isn't a more divisive figure in golf. He's loved and admired worldwide by millions, and at the same time he's scorned by legions of folks who can't find the goodness in their heart, for one reason or another, to root for the most exciting player in the history of the game.

The bad temper, the pouting and the womanizing didn't help Tiger become more beloved by his haters. But have mercy for our imperfections.

In his scolding of Tiger, Watson spoke for those people who needed a public voice, a commenter with some street cred in the game, to say what they had been saying all along about Woods.

Yet it's weird to think of Watson as the voice of the people, but his words do have a strong following. And Tiger knows this. That's why Watson's hurtful words will have a lingering effect on their relationship. When a player of Watson's stature says something that many people already believe, but aren't willing to say beyond the anonymity of a chat room, it gives credence to their rants.

Tiger won't ever fully forgive and forget Watson's rebuke. And Watson shouldn't think he can mend the wounds by making flattering remarks about Tiger's career. With 74 wins, 14 majors and more than $100 million in tour earnings, Tiger doesn't need anyone to remind him of his greatness.

Watson would do well to leave Tiger alone and let him play golf. The five-time Open Championship winner doesn't need Tiger to like him. He just needs him to want to win points for the team. Tiger's way of dealing with Watson will be to be polite and distant. If Tiger likes you, he'll concoct a nickname for you. Tom will probably just be Tom. But that's enough. The Ryder Cup is not a lovefest or a time to settle personal disputes.

Together, these two men will take the fight together to the Europeans. The wounds might heal faster with the Cup back in U.S. hands.