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Smiles might foretell turnaround for Tiger Woods at Ryder Cup

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Updated: October 29, 2012 6:43AM



His air of invincibility is gone, mostly chipped away by a new wave of golfers who weren’t steamrolled during his peak.

By most standards, Tiger Woods had a memorable season, winning three tournaments and remaining in contention for the FedEx Cup until the very end.

But, by his standard, Woods had a forgettable season, failing to win any majors and shooting average scores most weekends.

The talk heading into the Ryder Cup is that Team Europe’s Rory McIlroy is the ‘‘marked man,’’ the No. 1 player in the world rankings who has won three tournaments in the last six weeks, including dominating the field at the PGA Championship.

Woods can change all of that at Medinah Country Club this weekend.

Recently, he has sported a Cheshire Cat smile, seeming as if he knows something others do not. He has been diplomatic about McIlroy, even after the Irish phenom playfully said last month that he hoped he and Woods would go out first at the Ryder Cup so he could ‘‘kick his ass.’’ Woods also owned up to his 13-14-2 record at the Ryder Cup.

‘‘Well, certainly I am responsible for that because I didn’t earn the points that I was put out there for,’’ Woods said Tuesday. ‘‘Hopefully I can do that this week, and hopefully the other guys can do the same and we can get this thing rolling.’’

For all of his on-course success, Woods has been a part of just one winning Ryder Cup team, in 1999.

Longtime teammates defended his Ryder Cup record, including U.S. captain Davis Love III.

‘‘I know I messed Tiger up a couple times,’’ Love said, ‘‘so I’m part of his problem.’’

But the U.S. players have attempted to separate themselves from the past, an approach the Europeans also have publicly taken.

Woods’ quiet confidence may also be in his success at Medinah Country Club, where he has twice won PGA Championships. In 1999, Woods edged Sergio Garcia in a dramatic final round, and he claimed the title by five strokes at the same course in 2006.

Woods emphasized Tuesday how important it was for him and his teammates to familiarize themselves with the course.

‘‘I’ve been here [for] two PGAs, and it’s a different golf course again,’’ Woods said. ‘‘I’m going to need to do my homework so that whoever I go out with, I will be ready and able to contribute and understand this golf course and how to play it.’’

One of his practice partners was Brandt Snedeker, arguably the game’s hottest player after winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup last weekend in Atlanta. Snedeker said Woods is playing great, and he doesn’t sense ‘‘any panic in him at all.’’

‘‘I think he’s going to be a very, very tough guy to beat this week,” Snedeker said. ‘‘He knows this golf course very, very well. He’s hitting the ball extremely solid. And he’s got a little edge to him. I think he’s going to be a guy that you do not want to face at any point this week on the European team.’’

Love used one of his four captain’s picks on Steve Stricker, who, despite winning just one tournament this season, gets the benefit of the doubt because of his putting skills and his relationship with Woods.

Stricker noted that Woods didn’t have the sort of season he has had in the past but that he’s ‘‘moving in the right direction.’’

‘‘I’ve talked to him a bunch the last month or so leading up to this,” Stricker said, ‘‘and he feels good about where he’s going and what he’s doing.’’

The U.S. team still depends on Woods for a spark, even if he isn’t ranked No. 1 and hasn’t won a major.

‘‘Hopefully we can get off and get him going on a good run this week and get where he’s going to get some points, because when that happens . . . that’s big momentum,’’ Stricker sad. ‘‘Guys feed off of that.’’



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