August 4, 2021, 23:57

Weary Woods can’t match hype as star attraction fails to shine

Weary Woods can’t match hype as star attraction fails to shine

Tiger Woods’ much-hyped Ryder Cup return fell flat in the face of inspired play from Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood on Friday.

The 14-time major champion was the star attraction in the days building up to this week’s event in Paris after last Sunday’s uplifting victory at the Tour Championship.

The reception Woods received at Thursday’s opening ceremony underlined what a huge crowd favourite he is, even among Europeans.

And that remained the case as he took to the first tee as half of a stellar American pairing with Patrick Reed in the fourth fourballs match of the morning.

He was the hero to Reed’s pantomime villain and earned a huge roar as he prepared for his first shot, even if the noise levels from the packed 7,000-capacity grandstand were not quite matching those of recent Ryder Cups at Gleneagles and Hazeltine.

The numbers following the match inside the ropes were extraordinary, with the usual team officials, reporters and photographers joined by numerous VIP fans. Outside the ropes mobile phones were seemingly out in their hundreds every time Woods addressed the ball.

Huge crowds followed Tiger Woods throughout his round (David Davies/PA).

He is used to such attention and initially responded well, notably hitting a fine tee shot at the second that proved enough to win the hole without the need to putt. There was then a fine chip that led to a half at the third and another superb tee shot at the fourth.

His shots were met with the usual cries of “get in the hole”, while Reed at one point had to put up with “get in the water”.

Yet it was Reed who had to take charge of affairs as Woods, despite bringing his game face to proceedings, fell away after a positive start. He missed the sixth green to the left, giving marshals a difficult task to clear a path to his ball through the thick crowd.

The American pair did edge into a two-hole lead, but Molinari got into his stride to cancel that out as Woods’ struggles continued heading on to the back nine. With Reed’s game also melting away, Fleetwood took control of the match.

As Woods approached the 16th tee the crowd learned he would not be playing in the afternoon. Woods responded by hitting into the water.

The match was wrapped up 3&1 on the 17th and Woods, looking far from happy, had a long chat with captain Jim Furyk.

In the closing stages of the round there had, perhaps inevitably, been speculation about whether Woods might have been suffering any discomfort in his back, but he was whisked away on a buggy before anyone could ask.

A later interview, however, suggested nothing untoward.

Tiger Woods was whisked away on a buggy at the end of his round (David Davies/PA).

Perhaps playing six times in the previous eight weeks, and 18 times this year compared to just 24 times in the four years before that, not to mention the highs of last week, weariness had just caught up with him.

The crowd will hope to see him well rested and back on Saturday.


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