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NEWPORT, WALES - OCTOBER 01: Phil Mickelson of the USA tees off on the 1st hole during the Morning Fourball Matches during the 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort on October 1, 2010 in Newport, Wales. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
It's rare that Americans find themselves floating under the radar in international athletic events. Teams representing the red, white and blue perennially gobble up gold medals in sports as diverse as basketball and swimming. In the last year, the U.S. even made great strides in soccer and hockey, games typically dominated by European countries and Canada.
So it seems odd that the country that is home to four of the world's top ten golfers starts its defense of the biennial Ryder Cup today as a massive underdog. But that was the case as Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson took to the links against Europeans Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer under rainy skies in Newport, Wales.
Johnson sent the first shot of the round into the rough, while Westwood put his right on the fairway, perhaps a portentous sign of things to come. But Mickelson dropped his shot into the fairway, as did Kaymer. The European team jumped out to leads in all four of the opening round matches before heavy rains postponed play.
"The first thing I need is to find a hair dryer," said Kaymer after being drenched.
When it comes to the Ryder Cup, it actually makes sense to be wary of Uncle Sam's boys. The U.S. has only captured two of the last seven cups, hasn't won away from the states in 17 years and was embarrassed by nine points in both 2004 and 2006.
But all eyes will fall on one particular player who teed off in the day's third pairing: Tiger Woods. The world's number one ranked player suffered through a miserable year, on and off the course. His marriage ended in divorce after his serial adultery was exposed and he rarely looked like his old, dominant self on the PGA tour. In fact, he looked mortal and had to plead with Ryder Cup coach Corey Pavin just to get a spot on this year's team. But that doesn't mean he's down and out.
"My bet is that if ever Tiger is going to be energized in a Ryder Cup, it is going to be this one," said golf great Jack Nicklaus before the competition got underway.
Woods has typically teed off in the first pairing in his previous Ryder Cup appearances, but he will play in the third group this year with Steve Stricker against Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher, the number 16 and 27th ranked players in the world respectively.
"I was expecting Tiger to go first, " said European captain Colin Montgomerie. "Tiger being 'hidden' is a different move."
Woods' record in the event is worth hiding from view. He's 10-13-2 in his Ryder Cup matches and has only played on one winning squad. However, given his poor performance to date this year, being sent down out of the first group may be just the thing Woods needs to find his game. Freed from the pressure of expectations, the Tiger lurking in the rough may be America's best chance to bring the cup home again.