Thursday, September 19, 2002
Woods wary of Ryder Cup preparations
By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
THOMASTOWN, Ireland Tiger Woods is preparing for the American Express Championship the way he does for most other tournaments.
He practices alone one day and in a threesome the next, efficiently playing 18 holes in three hours. He runs three miles and works out before or after he plays. Most importantly, he gets into the proper frame of mind to play his best golf.
That might not be the case next week at the Ryder Cup.
Practice sessions are often long and in groups. Workouts are replaced by gala dinners. Cardiovascular work gives way to photo sessions.
It's supposed to be a pretty big event, Woods said Wednesday. You're spending most of the nights going to functions until 11 or midnight, and that's not how you prepare for a big event. You're thrown out of your routine. You're not doing things you normally would do to get your game ready.
Perhaps that explains why Woods' enthusiasm for the Ryder Cup isn't that high not until the matches get started.
When asked during his practice round why he decided this week to make a major equipment change from Titleist forged irons to the Nike Golf forged irons Woods replied, The majors are over.
At least he stopped short of calling the Ryder Cup an exhibition.
Either way, his mind is geared this week toward a World Golf Championship, one that was canceled last year in St. Louis because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Woods has won four of the nine WGC events he has played, including the inaugural American Express Championship at Valderrama, defeating Miguel Angel Jimenez in a playoff under floodlights with the Spanish Civil Guard lining the fairway.
Something just as spectacular is possible this week at Mount Juliet, a lush Jack Nicklaus-designed course in southeastern Ireland where the greens are so pure that most players are predicting low scores throughout the week.
The 65-man field includes 49 of the top 50 players in the world, only that doesn't mean much anymore.
After all, Kevin Sutherland won the Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa for his first PGA Tour victory. Last month at Sahalee, Craig Parry of Australia won the NEC Invitational for his first PGA Tour victory.
It just proves anyone in the field can actually win these tournaments, Parry said. You've got what looks like unknowns who have won other tournaments around the world. I wouldn't be surprised if someone else (won), like Scott Laycock or Peter O'Malley.
Woods is coming off a three-week break in which he got a master's certification for diving and spent some time in underwater caves.
His golf hasn't been too shabby, considering he won the Buick Open, was runner-up at the PGA Championship and tied for fourth in the NEC Invitational, another WGC event.
All this appears to bode well for him heading into the Ryder Cup, where he's just 3-6-1 in two previous trips. He's not worried about some of his teammates, either, even though nine haven't won this year.
It helps if you're playing well going into an event, but I think when you're in a team event, it can turn things around, he said. It can inspire you to have teammates around you. We've seen that in the past.
Woods, like most players in the field at Mount Juliet, are more interested in winning the American Express Championship and the $1 million prize. Woods could virtually clinch his fourth straight money title with a victory this week.
The 65 players come from 18 countries, although the United States has 28 in the field.
It's not quite like a major championship from the historical perspective, but having the field the way it is definitely gets your juices flowing, Woods said. You're playing against the best, the same guys you would in a major.
The defending champion is Mike Weir, and even he feels a little out of place since his victory at Valderrama was two years ago. Two of his three victories have come outside the United States, so maybe he'll feel right at home in Ireland.
Woods feels the same way.
While this is his first official tournament on the Emerald Isle, he has been coming to Ireland for the last four years the week before the British Open. In fact, he played Mount Juliet in July, and noticed it was colder in the middle of summer than it has been this week.
I loved fishing here, he said. I loved hanging out in the pubs. The Irish people have been wonderful. It's going to be a lot of fun this week.
Next week is another story.
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