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Woods gets motivation in words from Sutton

Maybe it was a pre-Ryder Cup pep talk in disguise, maybe it wasn’t. Tiger Woods insists he didn’t take offense, and U.S. captain Hal Sutton denies pushing golf’s biggest name into becoming a team player like, say, Jack Nicklaus.

To those accustomed to the don’t-step-on-Tiger’s tail deference normally paid Woods, Sutton’s motivational words Tuesday sounded more like those heard at halftime in a locker room than in a pleasant chat alongside the 18th green.

Sutton, picked to lead the Americans partly because of his reputation for being candid and assertive, is challenging Woods to do something about a 5-8-2 Ryder Cup record that compares poorly to Nicklaus’ 17-8-3.

“All we have to do is say, ‘Hey, Tiger, it’s time you felt this was important,”‘ Sutton said Tuesday. “I want you to realize that this is going to be an area that guys are going to judge you by down the road, whether you like it or dislike it. Let’s give it all you got and lead this team.”

Sutton conveniently didn’t mention Nicklaus competed in only one Ryder Cup after continental players were added in 1979 to make the biennial competition more than an exhibition of American talent. It has, too; Europe has won three of the last four and six of the last nine competitions.

Woods dismissed, though not with any anger, Sutton’s analogy that his Ryder Cup record, will be long remembered.

“I’m sure all of you guys probably know what Jack’s record is in the Ryder Cup, right?” he said, looking around a room filled with reporters. “Anybody? No?”

Woods offered another question to the now-silenced room.

“How many majors did he win?”

At once, several spoke up, “18.”

Woods smiled without saying a word.

Still, the perception Woods cares more about winning tournaments and cash than Ryder Cups was partly self-created.

Asked shortly before the 2002 Ryder Cup if he preferred to win it or the World Golf Championship, Woods chose the latter, saying, “Why? I can think of a million reasons” — a reference to the $1 million first prize.

The remarks added to the perception the European players care more about the Ryder Cup than the Americans. One reason frequently cited: The European tour offers less prize money and perks, and the top golfers sometimes travel together to share costs.

“There’s usually one hotel where all the players stay,” Luke Donald said. “They meet up at night and go out to dinner. Through that, they seem to have better friendships.”

Sutton can’t build that kind of camaraderie in less than a week, but he appears to be trying to motivate Woods into playing like he’s never played before at the Ryder Cup, which starts Friday at Oakland Hills.

“It’s not blunt. It’s just talking about facts,” Sutton said. “It’s not always Tiger’s fault that his record is not as good. I mean, I’ve seen Tiger shoot 64 and lose.”

Sutton also predicted Woods may produce “some of his greatest golf this week, so buckle your chin straps,” even though Woods has won only once this year.

If Sutton sounds like a coach, well, that’s exactly the role he’s assuming. One trick: He brought in Michael Jordan to deliver an inspirational talk at a team dinner Monday night.

No doubt Sutton liked it a little more than 12 hours later when the three American foursomes drew loud, partisan cheers during their practice rounds Tuesday.

“Seeing all of those people out there already cheering and yelling, “U-S-A!” and stuff like that, it’s a great feeling,” Chad Campbell said. “This is the only tournament that you can see that at.”

While Sutton wants the Americans to think like a team, he wants them to play like they can win the Ryder Cup by themselves.

“Be prepared to beat the other two guys by yourself and, if I give you a little help (with the pairings), then that’s a bonus,” Sutton said.

Tiger, are you listening?

Woods said he heard Sutton’s comments, made at a news conference, but he didn’t sound angered or extra motivated by them.

“I don’t go into any tournament thinking how great it would be to lose. I think it would be asinine to think that way,” Woods said. “You guys know how competitive I am. I go out there with the intent to win points for the U.S. team.”

He just hasn’t done it as often as might be expected from the golfer ranked No. 1 in the world for five years before being bumped by Vijay Singh. Woods hasn’t won on the first day of his last two Ryder Cups, helping put the United States in a hole from the start.

“Tiger, he’s probably, obviously, not happy with the way he’s played this year,” Donald said. “He doesn’t have a very good Ryder Cup record and I’m sure he’ll be wanting to improve on that.”

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