MEDINAH, Ill. – The stare and the swagger and some resemblance of the swing came back for Tiger Woods on Friday afternoon, but it didn't matter in the end.
Although Woods produced 18 holes that were infinitely better than his awful showing on the first morning of the Ryder Cup, his revival was completely upstaged by an upstart rookie named Nicolas Colsaerts.
Woods has never looked comfortable in this team competition, trying across seven editions of the Ryder Cup to be inspired by national service rather than muted by it. After a day in which he rode an emotional roller coaster only to come up empty-handed, Woods will now be rested for the first time ever in his Ryder Cup career. He will sit out the Saturday morning foursomes, ending his streak of 31 straight sessions at the event.
"We are sitting him out because there is so much that goes into this week," U.S. captain Davis Love III said. "They need rest. The first thing they ask me when they are done playing and practicing is, 'When can we go home and get rest?' Tiger needs a rest. Steve Stricker needs a rest. I need a rest. Tiger and Steve are supportive friends of mine, they will do whatever I ask them to do. I guarantee neither of them are happy about it because they have to wait to play again."
In a thrilling fourball match that went all the way down to the 18th, Colsaerts – taking the very first Ryder Cup swings of his life – showed Tiger how it's done and prevented Europe from digging itself a deficit that may have proved terminal. The U.S. led 5-3 after the Friday afternoon fourball matches, where each player hits his own ball and the best score in each pairing counts.
"Colsaerts was 9- or 10-under on his own ball," Love said. "That is usually what it takes to beat Tiger. How [Tiger] played, that would've been good enough to beat anyone else except for Colsaerts."
The United States' Steve Stricker and Europe's Lee Westwood were largely reduced to a spectator's role as Woods and Colsaerts slugged it out in a contest full of tension, drama and monster putts that brought Day 1 at Medinah to an entertaining conclusion.
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Woods, to his credit, fully justified the decision of Love to retain faith with him after a horrid start to the day in his morning foursomes defeat. Woods and Stricker lost to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.
"I didn't play very good this morning at all," Woods said. "I was hitting it awful and not doing anything well. We had a chance to be all square on the last hole, but I missed it."
The turnaround between sessions was just a few minutes, certainly not long enough for an out-of-sorts Stricker to get himself settled. But somewhere in that brief period Woods rediscovered his inner Tiger and came out firing and fist-pumping with a birdie to win the first hole.
Gone were the pulls and hacks and swipes, the tight expression and the beating of his club into the Chicago turf. Back was that ferocious gaze, one that might not instill the same level of awe and fear as it once did, but still an indication that one of the best in the business means, well, business.
Soon, though, the afternoon would become Colsaerts show. The lanky young Belgian, whose best major finish is a tie for seventh at this year's British Open, embarked upon an extraordinary round that saw him reel off eight birdies and an eagle.
Colsaerts' efforts put him and Westwood 2-up at the turn, before a little Woods magic turned the tide once more. Woods reeled off five birdies on the back nine, one too few as it turned out.
With momentum finally behind him, deep into what had been a largely frustrating day, Woods drained a long putt to win the 16th hole, reduce the gap to one and put some serious jitters into the European camp.
As the ball rolled into the cup, Woods was already moving. He pointed to the next tee, snarled "let's go" and marched toward the penultimate hole. Stricker could only smile, shrug his shoulders and let Woods get on with it, which in reality, was probably the smartest option.
This was vintage Woods, and his tee shot on 17 was reminiscent of his ultimate glory days, perfectly struck and nestling to within five feet. It was a majestic strike and Woods strode so firmly toward the green that his footprints might still be indented into the lush turf. Yet there was Colsaerts again. Having made a rare deviation from perfection off the tee, Colsaerts navigated an undulating long putt that ensured his side would not be swept out of the afternoon.
The drama continued at the final hole. Woods and Colsaerts were the only two men on the green in regulation, but the American was far closer. Colsaerts made a solid two-putt and the scene was set. Woods' 12-footer crept a fraction of an inch to the left and his afternoon, despite the upturn of form, ended with another loss.
Colsaerts was engulfed by his veteran teammates, who knew full well that history looks unfavorably on teams who go down by three points after the first day.
Woods' Ryder Cup record is now 13-16-2, but the naked statistics of two defeats do not tell the true story of this day. As Love said, it took a performance for the ages to beat Woods. The former world No.1 and 14-time major champ will have some solace to reflect on as he sits out a session for the first time.
"Nicolas probably had one of the greatest putting rounds I've ever seen," Woods said. "I drove it great this afternoon and was in position, but we ran into a guy who just made absolutely everything."
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