NEWPORT, September 28- A smiling Tiger Woods was given a rousing reception as the United States began the final countdown to their defence of the Ryder Cup here Tuesday.Woods, who has battled personal torment and poor form throughout the year, looked relaxed and confident as the Americans teed off for their opening practice rounds at Celtic Manor.
The 34-year-old world number one, chosen as one of US skipper Corey Pavin’s four wildcards, teed off first in a four-man group which also included Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson.
A large gallery cheered, whistled and applauded warmly as Woods stepped up to the first tee of Celtic Manor’s Twenty Ten course before sending an immaculate drive ripping down the fairway.
Earlier Woods had been the first man out of the clubhouse and on to the 18th green as the Americans lined up for the team photo ahead of their battle with Europe, which gets under way on Friday.
Europe captain Colin Montgomerie lavished praise on Woods after the Americans touched down in Wales on Monday, hailing the 14-time major winner as the greatest golfer in the history of the sport.
"I’ve always said that Tiger is the best player in the world and the best player, in my opinion, that has ever played the game," Montgomerie said.
"I am delighted to see Tiger here. We welcome him with open arms. It is the first time he will have played golf in Wales as a professional, and we are just looking forward to seeing him play."
US skipper Pavin meanwhile said he did not envisage any special role for Woods, who has won the Ryder Cup only once during his career in 1999. Woods missed the 2008 victory through injury.
"I hope he’s just going to go out and play well and win some points," Pavin said. "That’s the role I would like to have him play, just like everybody else on the team."
Pavin also declined to offer any clues about who Woods might be paired with for Friday’s opening fourballs and foursomes.
"I think every player has a role to play on the team, and all 12 guys have their own individual abilities and personalities," Pavin said.
"And, you know, I’m going to pair the guys according to that, and every individual knows a couple of players they are going to play with or potentially with. How they interact with each other is very important to me."
The Ryder Cup has rarely been a happy hunting ground for Woods, who has won only 10 of his 25 matches and only tasted victory once in five attempts going into this week’s contest at Celtic Manor.