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Preview: The Ryder Cup

Sep 30, 2010, 12:00 PM EDT

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With the success of the 2010 AT&T National at Aronimink this summer and the advance of the U.S. Open at Merion in 2013, professional golf has returned to the Philadelphia area in a big way. Regardless of whether you, our loyal readers, play the game yourselves, it should be noted that our town lays claim to one of the strongest golf traditions in the country. Just take a look at a Google Map satellite over the area in and around 309 at Fort Washington to see the outrageous number of private country clubs all dating back roughly a century. The phrase "densely populated" comes to mind.

Now, even if golf isn't exactly your thing, I'm going to try to appeal to you on a basis I think we can all appreciate: blind patriotic support for national sporting endeavors. This, of course, brings me to this week's Ryder Cup. If at some points it seems like I'm going a bit overboard from here on out — I'm not. This is golf people. We're going to war.

Having made their way to the Celtic Manor Resort in South Wales, golf's best will be teeing it up on the brand new "Twenty Ten Course," the first golf course ever built specifically for the purpose of hosting a Ryder Cup. Well, alright, it isn't exactly new. The track is actually just an extensively remodeled version of something originally built in 1999 called Wentwood Hills. This sort of dubious posturing should prove readily apparent to the most ardent patriots as a disingenuous attempt by some shifty Europeans to one-up us on their own soil, and I, for one, won't have it. Alright, I'm going overboard.

On to the golf itself, Corey Pavin's boys in the Red, White & Blue will be facing off against a very deep European squad led by 0-time Major Champion Colin Montgomerie. Comparing the squads on paper and factoring in some relevant history, like the fact that the United States has not won on European soil since 1993, puts the Americans at what appears to be a disadvantage. However, since the PGA Tour had instituted the Fed-Ex Cup playoff system in 2007, the United States has gone a perfect 3-0 in international competition. World #2 Phil Mickelson attributes the success to the forced change in schedule:

"In the past before team events, we would have six weeks off after the last major championship, the PGA, where guys would kind of shut it down," Mickelson said. "With the FedEx Cup it's kept our games sharp, and so the by-product has been we've had great performances in the last three team competitions.

But, as ESPN golf writer Jason Sobel's above article goes to speculate, with 9 of the 12 team members having played the last four weeks in a row, fatigue could become an issue. Either way, the two sides enter this weekend at vastly different conditions as related to both mental and physical rest. 

One American who will not be bothered by fatigue, however, is Tiger Woods, who required a captain's pick just to make the team after failing to earn an automatic berth. Having not qualified for last week's Tour Championship at East Lake, the best in the world had the week off to work on his game and, well, whatever else it is he now does with his time. While showing flashes of brilliance during brief periods since his return, his back-9 during the third round of this year's U.S. Open, for example, Woods also hit a distinct rock bottom at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Finishing second to last in an event he usually owns, Tiger posted his worst 72-hole score ever as a professional.  2010 has been  in many ways a referendum on Woods both as a golfer and as a person. I personally am going to stay away from his family situation for the purposes of this discussion and stick only to what he does on the course.

In light of all the above, and fill in the blanks where necessary, other golfers, specifically 21-year-old European Team Member Rory McIlroy, see enough chinks in Woods' armor to get unusually brazen with the former juggernaut. In a press conference earlier this week, McIlroy declared:

"I would love to face him," McIlroy, who won the Quail Hollow Championship in May for his first PGA Tour victory, said in an interview with the BBC last month. "Unless his game rapidly improves in the next month or so, I think anyone in the European team would fancy his chances against him."

When asked for his own comment, Woods coldly responded with only, "me too." Discussion on the subject was then closed. U.S. Captain Corey Pavin is, at least publicly, ruling out a direct grudge match between the two. Still, it should be interesting to see if Woods will face McIlroy during either the team matches Friday and Saturday, or, god-willing, in singles on Sunday. In the event that he does, can Tiger finally channel all his frustration, sorrow and disappointment into one truly dramatic comeback performance this weekend?

Golf fans have been so eager to declare Tiger "back" over the last 6 months that it's become a recurring tease. Every time he takes one step forward, he almost immediately takes two steps back. As such, do not take whatever happens this weekend as kind of definitive statement about where Woods will go from here. With only two months to go until Thanksgiving, the one year anniversary of his life's unraveling, the last ten months have clearly been the most trying of his life and figure to only bring more challenges (like possibly spending this year's Turkey Day away from his ex-wife and children). Listen, I want the old Tiger Woods back as much as everyone else; I'm just saying that he's clearly going to have to do it on his own time, when he gets his own life in order. Whatever happens at Celtic Manor this weekend, good or bad, it will be just one more step on a long road back to normalcy and shouldn't be viewed as symbolically representative of anything larger.

This, on the other hand, should be taken exactly that way. Give 'em hell, boys.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images Europe)