Judging by the comments of rival captains Thomas Bjorn and Jim Furyk during their joint press conference at Le Golf National yesterday, the knockout punch Tiger Woods delivered to Rory McIlroy in Sunday’s Tour Championship must never have happened.
While the golfing world was glued to the compelling psychodrama at East Lake as the final round played out between the big beasts of the PGA and European Tours, Bjorn and Furyk must have been busy sewing name tags into their respective uniforms or figuring out the place settings around their team-room dinner tables.
That can be the only explanation for their low-key response to the extraordinary fireworks of the previous day’s final round in Atlanta.
Lest we forget, Woods not only held onto a three-shot 54-hole lead over McIlroy, the 14-time major champion saw his final-round playing partner slide out of contention to the point where the Irishman limped home six shots adrift.
As Woods marched up the 18th to the acclaim of a huge, jubilant crowd in his wake, all the outgunned McIlroy could do was grin manfully alongside the American hero and hope to goodness the 42-year-old would leave his mojo in the States as Team USA headed east for Paris.
Woods’s taming of the European big gun on the eve of the 42nd Ryder Cup matches starting Friday at Le Golf National was the icing on the cake of a stupendous achievement by the man whose career looked in as bad a shape as his back did a year ago before a fourth trip to the operating table and some spinal fusion surgery.
His closing 71, one over par, was not his best golf of the week but it did not need to be, such is the aura around a man back to his dominant best and set to win his first tournament since August 2013.
And while his nearest rivals on the leaderboard wilted, McIlroy to a wayward, fairway-averse 74 and Justin Rose, who had also started the day three off the lead, to a 73, Woods’s final round was enough to keep the chasing pack at bay and secure a two-shot victory, his 80th on the PGA Tour.
While the galleries that chanted USA! USA! USA! processed behind Woods to the final green with a remarkable, collective giddiness, you could imagine his Ryder Cup team-mates being just as excited as they anticipated the effect their alpha male’s victory over the European talisman could have on this week’s proceedings near Versailles.
This was the kind of a psychological blow Furyk would have surely dreamed of and Bjorn feared most, yet in sharing a top table at Le Golf National yesterday, their responses were disappointingly muted.
Bjorn, who was unfortunate to be among the generation that played out their own illustrious careers in Woods’s shadow, spoke of his delight at the career resurrection of the Tiger but emphasised that there were 24 golfers capable of producing golfing magic.
The USA skipper is probably right to downplay the Tiger effect, just as he did the fact that four of his team, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, finished in the last four spots on the 30-man leaderboard Sunday night.
Who knows how much emotion that long-awaited victory will have taken out of Woods as he attempts to go again this week and, given the rigours of potentially 36 holes a day over four sessions of fourballs and foursomes this Friday and Saturday, is Tiger up to the demands of a Ryder Cup at the end of his first full campaign since the 11 tournaments he played in 2015?
Those are questions neither the golfer nor his captain may have the answer to until play gets underway at the weekend but if Woods were to play all five sessions it would be an impressive achievement.
Similar thoughts will be occupying Bjorn as he assesses the mental toll taken on McIlroy by his Sunday mauling. Just two years ago it was the Irishman striding into Hazeltine as Europe’s main man having won the Tour Championship and the $10 million FedEx Cup series win jackpot to boost Darren Clarke’s side. And though Europe could not stop the American tide in a 17-11 defeat that gave the USA its first win since 2008, McIlroy gave his heart and soul that week in Minnesota before losing an epic Sunday singles duel with Reed.
At least there’s still a FedEx champion in the blue corner this week, with Justin Rose more than compensating for his own disappointing final round at the Tour Championship by hanging in there to grab the necessary birdie at the last to finish top of the standings and become the 10 million dollar man.
All that was left for McIlroy on Sunday night as he headed for Paris was a desperate need to get his act together before the hullabaloo returns on Friday morning.