As if Tiger Woods did not have enough ghosts to exorcise at next week’s Ryder Cup – an event in which his record as a team player has never begun to emulate his individual feats – then for the first time he has revealed that it was during the famous 2012 match that the back issue which so almost ended his career initially flared up.
Le Golf National will be Woods’s first appearance in the Ryder Cup since the “Miracle of Medinah” in Chicago – which saw Europe come back to win from 10-4 down – and that memory clearly still haunts. It was the only time the 14-time major winner was ever “benched” for a session and, contrary to widespread opinion that United States captain Davis Love had made the call because of Woods’s decidedly average performance, he admitted on Wednesday that it was at his behest.
“I wasn’t feeling well at that Ryder Cup,” Woods said. “It was where my back started bugging me. That Saturday afternoon wave was the only wave I’ve ever missed [in the Ryder Cup] and that was because I told Davis I just really couldn’t go. I asked him if he could put me out later on Sunday [in the singles] because I needed the time to get my back organised.”
In the event, Woods halved the final singles against Italian Francesco Molinari and this, ultimately, handed the visitors outright victory. It meant he won only half a point out of four and, as miserable as the week left Woods, he could not have dreamt that the injury would lead to four operations, a four-year spell in which he was barely able to compete, “months of lying on the ground and not being able to move” and a dependency on prescription medicines that resulted in his arrest last year.
Six years on and Woods is now starring in what he refers to as “my own walking miracle”. A spinal fusion 18 months ago allowed him to return to the PGA Tour and he has shocked everyone in rising from outside the world’s top 1,100 and into the top 25, with a string of fine performances, including sixth at the Open and second at the US PGA.
These displays helped him to make the top 30 who qualified for the Tour Championship that begins here at East Lake on Thursday. That is an incredible accomplishment in its own right, as is his selection for Jim Furyk’s US team, who go to France fancied to win on Europe soil for the first time in 25 years. Of course, Woods knows all about how easy it is for the favourites to be derailed in the Ryder Cup and was keen to compliment the opposition.
“I think the European side is one of the best they’ve ever had,” Woods said. “We have a solid team, but so do the Europeans. It plays out over three days. It’s about playing well at the right time and partnering up well at the right time and making putts. I think both teams are very deep this year, so it’s going to be a lot of fun for both sides.”
Before that, there is the little matter of a $10 million (£7.6 million) FedEx Cup bonus to be sorted. Woods would not only need to win for the first time in five years but, in 20th in the standings, would also require so many other results to go his way if he was to top the points list and scoop the bounty.
The top five, featuring Bryson DeChambeau, England’s world No 1 Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, all tee off in Thursday’s first round knowing victory would guarantee them the biggest winning cheque in golf.