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Tiger’s win at TOUR Championship gives U.S. team a buzz

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ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 23:  Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates making a par on the 18th green to win the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 23, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 23: Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates making a par on the 18th green to win the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 23, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

    Written by Mike McAllister @PGATOUR_MikeMc

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    GUYANCOURT, France – The U.S. team room at the Renaissance hotel near the Atlanta airport was buzzing Sunday night while anticipating the arrival of its latest winner. Finally, the moment came.

    “A giant roar when Steve Stricker walked in the room after his victory last night,” captain Jim Furyk said Monday, doing his best to suppress a smile.

    No offense to Stricker, whose wire-to-wire win at the inaugural Sanford International was his third in just seven starts on the current PGA TOUR Champions season. A most impressive performance, to be sure, but even vice-captain Stricker would admit the biggest buzz for the Americans on Sunday was generated by Tiger Woods, who ended his five-year drought on the PGA TOUR by claiming the TOUR Championship.

    Several of the U.S. players had stayed at East Lake late Sunday to congratulate Woods. Then they gathered at the hotel for a team dinner before jumping on a plane that landed in France at approximately 12:45 p.m. locally Monday afternoon.

    Their goal now is to end a drought that’s five times longer than Tiger’s – winning the Ryder Cup on foreign soil.

    It’s been 25 years since the U.S. has defeated Europe on the road, but Furyk couldn’t have asked for a better momentum boost than Woods winning after being uncertain about his golfing future just a year ago. To have Stricker also bring another trophy to the team room was a big bonus.

    “Nice to have those two guys play so well, and you know, start us off pretty well this week,” Furyk said Monday from Le Golf National, site of this week’s event.

    Of course, now the question becomes: Just how much of an impact will it make on this week’s outcome?

    European Captain Thomas Bjorn, hoping to avoid any potential bulletin board material, did not want to be dismissive of Tiger’s accomplishment, but he also sought to emphasize that this is a different week, with a completely different set of factors.

    “I spent 25 years playing professional golf with Tiger Woods on the scene, and anytime he does anything great, that’s a story and that’s where we want to see him,” said Bjorn, who can count on having FedExCup champion Justin Rose on his side. “We want to see him at the top of the game. He does so much for the game of golf. Watching that last night, I thought it was brilliant to watch. It was great for the greater aspect of the game.

    “Coming into this week, these are 24 of the best players in the world and this tournament is what it is. … It has its history and it’s a great battle and it is 12 against 12, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

    Furyk agreed that individual success one week can only go so far at a team event the following week. He said Tiger – initially a vice-captain until Furyk made him a captain’s pick earlier this month -- has already switched gears mentally.

    “He won yesterday as an individual, and I know how much that means to him and how important it was,” Furyk said, “but he’s flipped that page pretty quickly and is really excited to join his teammates and move forward in that process.”

    Of course, the excitement and adrenaline and rush of success can also be mentally exhausting to handle. Rose and Woods are each coming off highs Sunday night in East Lake, and now must turn around and refocus quickly. Meanwhile, four other Americans will try to shake off disappointment at the TOUR Championship – Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson were the bottom four names on the leaderboard after the final round.

    Furyk, however, is not worried about that foursome, which has combined to win 65 TOUR events, including 11 majors.

    “Of course, I think everyone would like to be in good form and feel good about their game,” he said, “but it’s a different golf course, different venue, totally different type of golf tournament coming into a match-play event, a team-oriented event and obviously with the big galleries. Just totally different atmosphere this week.”

    There’s also a matter of scheduling. With two sessions each day on Friday and Saturday, players will need to be well-rested for potentially having to play 36 holes in those first two days, followed by the intense Sunday Singles.

    Of the 12 Americans, 11 played last week at East Lake, with only Jordan Spieth sitting out after failing to qualify. Of the 12 Europeans, six played at East Lake and two more played the Portugal Masters on the European Tour. Four Europeans rested last week, and two of those – Ian Poulter and Alex Noren – were on the range early Monday afternoon.

    Plus, the U.S. team will need to get acquainted with Le Golf National; only half of the 12 players have ever seen it, compared to the European team, in which every member has played the course in a competitive environment. Le Golf National hosts the annual French Open on the European Tour.

    “The trick for us, not knowing the golf course quite as well, is getting that preparation in and learning the golf course,” Furyk said, “yet also trying to conserve some energy.”

    While the U.S. hope for a Tiger bounce to offset those concerns, the Europeans could also get a bounce if they can beat a surging Woods this week in the early sessions.

    Asked if Woods was to be feared this week, Bjorn responded: “We don’t fear anyone because we’ve played against them so many times before individually, but we respect our opponents and know what we’re up against.

    “That, I think, is the key to all this. We’ll go out and do what we can and play our game. What stands on the other side we know is one of the strongest American teams of all time, and we know we’ve got to play our best.”

    Tiger’s at his best – his best, at least, in the last five years. At some point this week, the Europeans will have to respond.

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