NEWPORT, September 29 – It was a throwaway remark, but one that Tiger Woods has never been allowed to forget.When asked in 2002 which would he would prefer to win, the American Express Championship in Ireland or the Ryder Cup, due to take place a week later, the golfing superstar surprised many when he chose the individual event.
Asked why, Woods replied: "I can think of a million reasons," referring to the dollar-prize for first place.
To his critics, the remark was proof of what had been long suspected. Woods, the ferociously driven competitor, had little interest in swapping individual glory for team success.
Woods’s performances in the Ryder Cup have fuelled the theory. The contest has rarely seen the best of the world number one, who has only featured on a winning team once in five attempts.
In 24 matches since he made his debut at Valderrama in 1997, he has a losing record — winning nine, losing 13 and halving two.
Yet Woods, drafted into the 2010 US ranks as one of Corey Pavin’s four wildcards, insisted Tuesday he is a team player, even while acknowledging he initially found it hard to adjust to the Ryder Cup environment.
"I was a pretty young guy, and I was usually the youngest player on the team for basically I think eight years," Woods said. "Most of the guys that I played with in my rookie year are now on the Senior Tour.
"So there was a difference in age, and don’t forget, I came out of college, two years of playing for Stanford every week, and it was harder to relate because these guys were older than me.
"As the years have gone by, now there’s quite a few guys are who are younger than me on the team. We have had a good mix over the years, and that’s where I was candid earlier in my career, because the guys were older.
"They have been around the block, won major championships and tournaments all around the world and they have been there before."
For Woods, this week’s Ryder Cup is a welcome opportunity to be part of a team after a hellish year which has seen his private life laid bare culminating in the collapse of his marriage.
Asked whether winning this year’s Ryder Cup would carry extra significance given the turbulent 10 months which have preceded it, Woods replied: "It would be great to get a win and I’m looking forward to getting out there and contributing and hopefully getting some points.
"I think (the Ryder Cup) has a special significance. Each and every year, as Americans we get to play on teams, being the Ryder Cup and The Presidents Cup.
"The teams are always fun to be part of. We don’t get a chance to do it very often.
"So for us to come here like this and be part of a squad, it truly is fun. The thing that goes on in the team rooms, that’s what we all look back on; the memories and the friendships that you build for a lifetime in just one week."