With the Ryder Cup just a week away, we have our first bit of delicious gamesmanship and it comes from one of Europe's most decorated stars. It's also aimed at the biggest name in the game, arguably the greatest of all time, and not-so-greatest Ryder Cupper.
England's Lee Westwood threw the first jab in what will hopefully be a week full of them in Minnesota, saying Tiger Woods may have an "adverse effect" as an assistant captain of the United States team. Westwood equivocated a bit, but this was calculated and he knew it would filter through the European headlines and across to the United States team. Here's one of several subtle punches from Westwood, via ESPN UK:
"I don't know what impact there will be from having Tiger around," he said. "They [the U.S. team] have always struggled to find a partner for Tiger that's been successful. He could have an adverse effect in the team room. People have always seemed to try to do too much when they have partnered him."
Seems benign enough, but there's a cutting point here and Westwood, who has been on every single Euro Ryder Cup team since 1997, knows exactly what he is doing.
Tiger has sucked at the Ryder Cup. His 13-17-3 record is obviously not commensurate with the force he's been in the game in all its other arenas. The underwhelming record is the result of his own poor play, some truly awful U.S. teammates, and unfortunate breaks. Westwood is right that he's never really had a go-to partner and his profile and career can suck the oxygen from the other 23 players in the competition.
Despite my and others' pleas that, if healthy, Tiger should absolutely be the final captain's pick announced this Sunday, Woods has been carrying out assistant captain's duties all year while recovering from injury at home. From all accounts, he's been excellent in this role, and captain Davis Love III, as well as players, like Phil Mickelson, cannot stop praising his investment and influence on the team's strategy and preparation.
The truth is Tiger won't hit a shot next week and can't have much of an effect once the matches actually start. Westwood's comments, which were definitely a swerve off the road he didn't have to take, will fire Tiger up even further to do whatever the hell he can, though.
The Tiger jab was just a piece in a long Westwood monologue that clearly questioned the USA's self-serious overhaul of their process, while also putting alllllll the pressure on his opponents to snap their ignominious losing streak. Westwood went right at Captain Love, saying he was doing a good job for a "couple days" back in 2012 as a reason to rip open the wound of that USA meltdown at Medinah.
"I don't know if something went wrong on the [2012 Ryder Cup] Sunday, or the team didn't play very well for some reason, but that will be in the back of their minds," Westwood added.
Westwood is best buds with the Euro captain Darren Clarke, and whether it was directed, he spent much of the interview needling Clarke's counterpart. He targeted the USA's team chemistry in speculating why Love had not yet chosen Bubba Watson as a captain's pick.
"There seem to have been issues about team spirit and chemistry," Clarke said. "Love has not picked Bubba Watson and I don't know what that does for team spirit -- he was first outside the points qualification and is No. 7 in the world."
On multiple occasions, he made sure to cite all the pressure that's on the U.S. side while mocking their very "serious" task force and Love's "interesting" decisions. The entire U.S. team will undoubtedly have notice of the interview.
There's a cloak of golfy decorum over the comments, but make no mistake, this is Ryder Cup sh*t talk and it is wonderful. My only hope is that it fuels Tiger to go to Love and demand he put him on the team as the 12th pick this weekend.