The Ryder Cup is the time for Woods to rise, relax and smile

John Inverdale
LET’S not pretend for a moment that the sporting world will be watching events in Chicago this week. The Ryder Cup will not be reverberating around Rio or resonating in Russia.

It will barely register in some of the European countries or individual states in the US that have players involved. It will entrance and fascinate those of us who love golf, and the final day’s singles always has the potential to provide theatre the equal of anything in recent weeks, but the names Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are on the margins of global sporting recognition at best.

Whereas the name Tiger Woods is not. And this week offers Tiger a unique opportunity to win back many of those lost admirers who have consigned him to the reject bin of flawed geniuses who are past their sell-by date. The sponsors who deserted him have slowly but surely edged their way back into his wardrobe and current account, but the adulation of the masses remains elusive.

Woods’ attitude towards the Ryder Cup has always been ambivalent. Every couple of years he has given the impression, as was said about Kevin Pietersen recently, that he delights in putting the ‘i’ in ‘team’ – doing all of us a favour by agreeing to turn up. He signs autographs begrudgingly, gives interviews robotically , barely interacts with his team-mates and seems almightily relieved when it’s all over and he can get back to the real business of ranking points and dollar bills.

Yet this is the man who Rory calls ‘baldy’ and who responds by calling McIlory ‘shorty’. A man whose friends and associates say is great company with a wicked sense of humour. But a man who has steadfastly refused to let any of us outside observers see the real Tiger.

Now in the heat of battle, pursuing lost glories and Jack Nicklaus’ record number of majors, it’s understandable that Woods keeps his game face on from opening drive to closing putt.

But the Ryder Cup is different. It is a team event in a sport that barely recognises the concept, and since when has ‘Europe’ ever been a team anyway? Of course it has tradition, and this time around features probably the greatest line of players since Samuel Ryder first had the idea of donating a trophy for an exhibition match between the USA and Great Britain in the 1920s, but nearly a century on it remains in essence, a celebration of the sport and the best made-for-tv sporting event imaginable.

So in that context, now is the time for Woods to loosen the tie and let himself go. And by giving a little, rekindling his love affair with the sporting public.

Smile, Tiger. And the golfing world might smile with you.